Mexico: Three jailed for protesting at high electricity charges

Amnesty International today accused the Mexican authorities of misusing the justice system to detain three community leaders following their protests against high electricity prices in the state of Campeche, in the east of Mexico.

Amnesty International has named Sara López, Joaquín Aguilar and Guadalupe Borja from the National Movement against High Electricity Tariffs in Campeche “prisoners of conscience”.

The three were detained in July 2009, in relation to their activities with the group. Mexico’s Federal Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) is accusing the three leaders of holding hostage an employee of Mexico's Federal Electricity Company.

The original complaint made by the legal representative of the electricity company related to an allegation of “obstructing the delivery of a public service”, a relatively minor charge. Amnesty believes that the PGR then fabricated an additional charge of hostage taking, a serious offence where the accused are not eligible for bail, when the protest leaders continued to contest the electricity bills.

In January 2010, a federal appeal court ruled that the evidence against the three was unsubstantiated and did not point to the crimes ever having been committed. However, the PGR appealed this ruling without justification, prolonging their detention until the challenge is resolved.

Amnesty is calling on the immediate and unconditional release of all three protestors.

Rupert Knox, Mexico researcher for Amnesty International, said:

“The criminal charges against Sara, Joaquín and Guadalupe are completely baseless and seem to have been brought only to stop their campaign against high electricity tariffs,”

“It is time for the Mexican authorities to stop targeting individuals involved in legitimate protest and dissent.”

Background information:

On 25 September 2008, around 40 people from the town of Candelaria went to the local offices of the Federal Electricity Company to ask that the power supply to their homes be reconnected. The company had cut the supply to community members for non payment, although negotiations were underway.

It was after this protest, that the electricity company’s legal representative filed a complaint with the PGR for the crime of “obstructing the delivery of a public service” against all of those named on an electricity company list of debtors for non-payment of bills.

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