Tortured Mexican Environmentalists Released

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Mexican President Vincente Fox today ordered the release from prison of two Mexican environmentalists who have been the subject of an intensive international human rights campaign.

Convicted of weapons and drugs offenses on their own confessions, Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia later repudiated these confessions which they maintained they were tortured into signing by Mexican military officers.


Mexican President Vincente Fox (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
In his announcement today that the the two men had been freed from Igula Prison, Fox appeared to acknowledge that the torture they allege had in fact occurred.

The President said his action is justified by the law of Mexico and is in accord with the principles of the Universal Declaration of the Human rights, the Pact the International of Civil and Political Rights and of the Convention Against Torture, "all of them subscribed and ratified by the Mexican State."

Fox mentioned the state of Montiel's health in prison as a reason for his release. The President said he has been aware of the situation since he took office. "From the past first of December, my government was interested in this subject, taking care of numerous requests of national and international organizations of human rights."

The Fox government has been bombarded by pleas to release the two peasants who organized opposition to the logging of old growth white pine and fir forests they say is destroying the land and waters of their home state, Guerrero.


Rodolfo Montiel (left) and Teodoro Cabrera in Igula Prison, Guerrero (Photo courtesy PRODH)
The pressure from human rights and environmental groups was stepped up after October 19. On that day their original defense lawyer, human rights defender Digna Ochoa, a woman, was shot to death in her office in Mexico City. Ochoa's murderers left behind a note threatening workers at human rights center PRODH, raising concerns for their safety and that of all human rights and environmental activists in Mexico.

"It is tragic that Digna cannot be here to celebrate the release of Montiel and Cabrera," said Carmen Reed of Amnesty International, USA. "Her murder and the threats left behind are stark reminders that the struggle for the protection of human rights and environmental defenders does not end with Montiel and Cabrera's release."

President Fox said his release order demonstrates the "commitment of my government to the promotion and observance of the human rights in our country."

Ochoa presented proof before the 5th District Court, that the crimes the two men were convicted of "were fabricated, and that the guns and drugs used as evidence against them were produced by the Mexican Army."


Slain human rights attorney Digna Ochoa (Photo courtesy Amnesty International Hillcrest, San Diego, California)
In her last appearance before the court, Ochoa produced evidence of the torture used to force the two peasant ecologists to sign declarations of guilt. She also presented a letter from one of the military personnel involved in which he admitted that Montiel and Cabrera were tortured.

Ochoa told "La Jornada" in October 1999, "These two peasants are unjustly imprisoned, and the Mexican Army has fabricated the crimes and produced arms and drugs to justify their illegal arrests."

She said Montiel was suffering some serious physical repercussions as a result of the torture he received during his detainment.

The two men have not been forgotten in their cells. Last year, Montiel was honored with the Goldman Prize for North America, one of six annual $125,000 awards for one winner on each continent whom the San Francisco based Goldman Foundation recognizes as a grassroots environmental hero. The prize was awarded to him in prison.


Rodolfo Montiel before his arrest and imprisonment (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize)
Beto Borges said the Goldman Foundation has been a voice lobbying loudly for the release of the two men. "We put an ad in the New York Times last Friday where we tried to do our part to increase pressure on the Fox administration, calling for their immediate and unconditional release. We are very pleased that they were released today, and they are back with their families where they belong."

The Sierra Club and Amnesty International, USA today called them "heroes" and called for their innocence to be recognized and the perpetrators of the human rights abuses committed against them caught and punished.

"Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera are environmental defenders who have undergone tremendous hardship for their work to protect their forests," said Alejandro Queral of the Sierra Club. "We are happy that they have been released, but defenders of human rights and the environment in Mexico will not be truly free and safe until those who threaten, torture and murder these heroes are brought to justice."