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Mexico: Attacks and harassment against human rights defenders

6 has received concerning pieces of information regarding the situation of human rights defenders in Mexico.

During the first two weeks of April, unknown persons broke into the home of environmental human rights defenders Juan Carlos Flores Solís and Miryam Vargas Teutle in the community of Santa María Zacatepec in the municipality of Juan C Bonilla, in the state of Puebla three times.

On 5 April 2022, environmental human rights defender Miryam Vargas Teutle found the door to her house open, the gate and padlock on the door broken and signs that a tree in the garden had been cut down. During the break-in, unknown persons left a knife on the bed where both environmental human rights defenders sleep and stole personal items such as a TV screen, important FPDATMPT documents and a printer. They left other valuables in plain sight on the premises.

On 9 April 2022, unknown persons broke into Juan Carlos Flores Solís and Miryam Vargas Teutle’s home for the second time through the main bedroom window. The unknown persons took the knife left on the bed in the previous break-in on 5 April 2022, however, this time they left Juan Carlos Flores Solís’ wardrobe open and stole the cistern pump, as well as a gas tank from the garden.

During the latest break-in on 14 April 2022, the unknown persons took papers from a bookcase in one room, a backpack containing several belongings and political event badges, and left the house dishevelled. The two defenders report that the police did not respond in time to the request of The Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists which suggested that a patrol should guard the house after the first raid on 5 April 2022.

The continuous raids and the death threat against the environmental human rights defenders take place after a recent meeting between the President of the Republic and the leader of the Cuautla River Irrigation Association (ASURCO), to finalize the imposition of the Morelos Integral Project (PIM) and end the legal and social opposition to the project in the region. There are serious concerns that these acts of intimidation could spread to other communities of human rights defenders in the region, particularly in the context of the development of the campaign “Caravan for Water and Life”, which aims to denounce the plundering and looting of natural resources suffered by communities in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Mexico City, State of Mexico, Morelos, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Querétaro.

ProtectDefenders has also received with deep concern information about the acts of mistreatment, arbitrary arrest and subsequent release of Mrs Alma Villalobos, her minor daughters and her mother, as well as the arbitrary detention of her partner, Mr Jhonatan Sandoval Juarez in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Mrs Villalobos and her partner are part of “A Promise to Keep”, a group of relatives of disappeared persons in the state of Guanajuato, which carries out independent search tasks for her loved ones.

After the searches of their homes in January 2022, Mr Sandoval, Mrs Villalobos, her mother and her daughters were arrested and taken to the AIC offices in Guanajuato, where they were subjected to beatings and psychological harassment. The AIC agents pressured Alma Villalobos to stop looking for her disappeared sister, indicating that “she is already dead, that she has to be buried over there or they destroyed her in a barrel of acid.” After having been forced to sign self-incriminating documents, Mrs Villalobos, her daughter and her mother were released from custody. Her partner however remains imprisoned while waiting for his trial on charges of “possession of weapons for the exclusive use of the Army” and “drug possession”. If found guilty, he would face between four and 15 years in prison.

In 2022, Mexico ranked 127 on RSF World Press Freedom index. Mexico is one of the countries with the highest media concentrations in the world, and one of the world’s most dangerous and deadly countries for the media. President López Obrador and other government officials have adopted combative and stigmatizing rhetoric against the press, frequently accusing journalists of promoting the opposition’s agenda. In practice, there are no overtly restrictive laws that curtail or censor press freedom, with censorship imposed with threats or direct attacks against the journalists rather than lawsuits, imprisonment, or rulings of suspension of activities.