According to Mexican government figures, some 15 million of its citizens, more than 12% of the population, are indigenous. Although Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), called on the Spanish state to apologise for its treatment of the indigenous during the period of conquest and colonisation, indigenous peoples still suffer discrimination and marginalisation in contemporary Mexican society with over 70 percent of them living in poverty. The discrimination is nowhere more obvious than within the Mexican prison system.
It is estimated that there are currently some nine thousand indigenous people incarcerated in Mexico. The vast majority of these impoverished, imprisoned indigenous people have no recourse to adequate legal representation. Many of them claim to be innocent of the charges they have been accused or convicted of, and often claim that they were forced to sign “confessions” as a result of torture. Some 96 percent of the prisoners are male, accused or convicted of minor offences.
Most of them were denied due process as there was no interpreter, which they are entitled to under federal and international law, present to assist them in understanding the charges of which they were accused. When there was investment that hired over 500 interpreters and translators in 2014, 1,693 indigenous prisoners were released. This trend has since been reversed.
Chiapas is the state with the second largest concentration of indigenous peoples after Oaxaca. It is also a state that is characterised by the marginalisation previously mentioned, a disproportionate indigenous prison population, and cruel and inhuman conditions inside those prisons. This includes ill treatment, lack of access to safe drinking water and poor medical services. There was some hope that cases with indications of miscarriage of justice would be reviewed and prisoners released, and that conditions within the prisons of Chiapas might improve with the election of AMLO. Indeed there were even indications that this might be the case with the release of two prisoners Alfredo Gomez Lopez and Diego Lopez Mendez in February and March of this year.
Both prisoners describe themselves as prisoners in resistance and are adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. There are twenty other prisoners in resistance in prisons across Chiapas. On March 15th, 13 of those prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike to protest their innocence and demand their immediate and unconditional release. All of their stories follow common patterns of arbitrary arrest, inadequate legal defence, absence of interpreters, torture, coercion and forced confessions.
Since initiating their hunger strike, conditions in the prisons and treatment has worsened and this has been publicly denounced by the Fray Bartholome de Las Casas Centre for Human Rights. Apart from the obvious physical and psychological toll that the hunger strike has had on the prisoners, it has also seriously emotionally affected their already suffering families and loved ones.
On April 12th, marking one month of the hunger strike, the prisoners announced that for the following 20 days they would continue with a partial hunger strike to allow for a 20-day window for the government to open dialogue with the prisoners and review the 20 cases of the protesting prisoners. If a suitable solution has not been found within that timeframe, the prisoners have vowed to continue a full hunger strike. It is, therefore, essential that pressure be brought to bear on the Mexican government to immediately enter into dialogue with the prisoners and review their cases and see that these miscarriages of justice are corrected.
If you want to express solidarity you can send a letter to the Mexican Embassy in Ireland:
Embassy of Mexico,
19 Raglan Road,