Heriberto Gomez Coello, lawyer; Maria del Carmen Grajales Castillejos, lawyer; Others

Re: Heriberto Gomez Coello, lawyer; Maria del Carmen Grajales Castillejos, lawyer; Others

To: General Rafael Marcial Macedo de la Concha Others

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier

Date: 2004-08-24

LRWC is gravely concerned for the safety of the above-noted individuals, following reports from Amnesty International that they have all been arrested in Chiapas, and that some of them have been subjected to maltreatment or torture while in custody.

According to reports, Heriberto Gómez Coella and María de Carmen Grajales Castillejos were arrested on August 11, 2004 in Cintalapa, Chiapas and charged with attempting to present false statements. Mr. Coella and Ms. Castillejos represent Eduardo Hernández Sánchez, Carlos Navarro Pérez, Enrique Hernández Ramos and Romelia Ramos Bérmudez, who were arrested at various times between January and April 2004 for alleged involvement in the shooting of a teacher in San Cristobal de las Casas in December 2003. LRWC further understands that Carlos Alberto Velasco was arrested on August 11, 2004 because the Ministerio Publico believes Mr. Velasco witnessed the killing of the teacher in San Cristobal de las Casas. Mr. Velasco has reportedly been charged with making false statements.

LRWC understands the present situation of those arrested to be as follows. Ms. Castillejos was released on bail on August 12th. Mr. Coella was unable to afford bail, and remains in custody. We understand that Mssrs. Sánchez, Pérez and Ramos, and Ms. Bérmudez are not eligible for bail and therefore remain in custody. We do not know the present situation of Mr. Velasco, and request information on same.

LRWC is disturbed by several aspects of the cases against the accused.

First, with respect to the two lawyers, Ms. Castillejos and Mr. Coella, LRWC is concerned that the charges against them are calculated to interfere with their representation of their clients, Mssrs. Sánchez, Pérez and Ramos, and Ms. Bérmudez.

LRWC respectfully reminds Mexico that the United Nations, in the Eighth Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, in Havana, Cuba, in 1990, affirmed that “Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference . . [and] shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics”. In the same statement, the members of the United Nations declared, “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities”.

LRWC urges you to carefully investigate the circumstances of the charges against Ms. Castillejos and Mr. Coella. We understand that the charges relate to statements proffered by the lawyers in their professional capacity, and in relation to their clients’ cases. We call on you to ensure that Ms. Castillejos and Mr. Coella are not subject to any inappropriate pressure to cease to represent their clients. We further urge you to ensure Ms. Castillejos’s and Mr. Coella’s safety in all circumstances.

Second, LRWC has several concerns regarding the arrests and treatment of Mssrs. Sánchez, Pérez and Ramos, and Ms. Bérmudez.

  • LRWC is informed that Mr. Sánchez was detained by four police agents in San Cristobal de las Casas on January 5, 2004. He was allegedly handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to the outskirts of the town and then beaten in the abdomen and genitals by the arresting agents. The agents then allegedly poured water into Mr. Sánchez’s nose, in an attempt to make him confess to the December 2003 killing. Mr. Sánchez remembers one of the agents saying, “comandante, este no va a hablar.” On January 6th, Mr. Sánchez was reportedly taken to the State Procurator’s Office in Tutxla Gutiérrez and coerced at gunpoint into being photographed holding a gun. He has been imprisoned since January 9th.
  • Carlos Navarro Pérez was reportedly detained without an arrest warrant by two men in San Cristobal de las Casas on January 24, 2004. He was allegedly taken by them to the office of the Sub-prosecutor where he was told, “si dices que mataste al maestro te vamos a pagar.” Mr. Pérez was reportedly also interrogated in a van where four members of the State police allegedly beat him while asking, “quién te pagó [para matar al maestro]?” Mr. Pérez’s face was apparently twice covered by a plastic bag, and he fainted from lack of oxygen. LRWC understands that Mr. Pérez was imprisoned on January 26th, and re-interrogated at the State Prosecutor’s office in Tutxla Gutiérrez. It is alleged that Mr. Pérez was beaten on that last occasion in the presence of ten police and a member of the Ministerio Publico. It is further reported that on January 26th, Mr. Pérez was forced to sign a confession to the teacher’s murder. The alleged confession implicated Ms. Bérmudez and her son, Mr. Ramos.
  • Ms. Bérmudez and Mr. Ramos were arrested on January 26 and April 15, 2004, respectively. According to a psychological examination, Mr. Ramos was tortured at some point following his arrest.

The facts of the arrests suggest irregular and inappropriate investigative techniques, a flagrant disregard for due process, and serious breaches of the fundamental human rights of the accused. We remind you of Mexico’s duties (and those of all of its states) to protect human rights and to ensure the proper treatment of persons in custody, in accordance with Mexico’s obligations under the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (and, in particular Articles 7, 9, 10, and 14); the American Convention on Human Rights (in particular Articles 5, 7, 8, and 24) and the Convention Against Torture (especially Articles 1, 2, and 11), as well as those obligations flowing from customary international law.

LRWC is seriously concerned for the safety of all of Mssrs. Sánchez, Pérez and Ramos and Ms. Bérmudez. We call on you to initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation of the allegations of maltreatment and torture described above. We urge you to publish the findings of the investigation and to ensure that those responsible for illegal actions are brought to justice. In the meanwhile, we ask that you take all necessary steps to ensure that the detained accused are free from abuse.

Third, with respect to Mr. Velasco, LRWC understands that he was arrested and charged following a sworn statement to a judge that he was not present at the killing of the teacher and did not know who committed the crime. In the absence of compelling evidence substantiating perjury or deception on Mr. Velasco’s part, we fail to see a foundation for the present charge against him. We respectfully request that you provide information concerning the basis for the charge. We also urge you to investigate the allegations of his mistreatment, to publish the investigation’s findings and to bring those responsible for wrongful actions to justice.

Finally, for all of those detained and charged in Chiapas, LRWC calls on you to take effective steps to ensure that investigative and judicial proceedings meet internationally recognized standards of fairness. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, we remind Mexico of the prohibition – under Article 15 of the Convention Against Torture – against using information obtained through torture in criminal proceedings, except against a person accused of torture, as evidence that the statement was made.

Please answer the above requests for information, and advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that the Governments of Mexico and Chiapas are taking in relation to the cases of Heriberto Gómez Coella, María de Carmen Grajales Castillejos, Eduardo Hernández Sánchez, Carlos Navarro Pérez, Enrique Hernández Ramos, Romelia Ramos Bérmudez and Carlos Alberto Velasco. LRWC awaits your response.