#StopTorture in Mexico: Charges against police officers are one more step towards justice

By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

The tremendous news that three Mexican police officers have been criminally charged with torturing Adrián Vázquez in Tijuana in 2012 is a historic breakthrough; and a great day for justice.  It is obviously very welcome news for Adrián himself; and it can and must spur greater efforts across Mexico to ensure that those who have been responsible for the staggering crisis of torture the country has faced over the past decade are held accountable.

The charges are truly groundbreaking, the first Amnesty International is aware of in the state of Baja California, where torture is widespread and longstanding.  They follow 2 ½ years of concerted advocacy by his courageous and outspoken wife Judith Luna, and his unrelenting and tenacious lawyer Sandra Esquer; supported by Amnesty International.  Upon hearing the news Sandra expressed just how crucial Amnesty’s campaigning has been.

Along with Judith, Sandra and other Amnesty colleagues from our Mexican section and our international office, I spent time visiting with Adrián Vázquez in El Hongo Prison outside Tecate, very close to Mexico’s border with the United States, in September 2014. 

By then Adrián had been in custody for nearly two years.  He had been through brutal torture that had very nearly killed him.  We did not know what to expect as we waited for Adrián to be brought in to our meeting room: a broken man, a determined man, an angry man, a sullen man, a man in pain?  We saw a man who was:

  • First and foremost, very much in love and whose face lit up when he saw that Judith was visiting. 
  • Quietly awestruck that a group of people from several different countries had shown up to see him behind bars.
  • Still quick to laugh, joining in various jokes and light-hearted comments. 
  • Bolstered to hear that his case featured prominently in Amnesty International’s new report on torture in Mexico, Out of Control and quick to flip to the pages of the report with his photo and case details.
  • Further uplifted to hear that Judith would be joining us for a press conference in Tijuana the following morning for the report’s local launch, an opportunity to highlight his case. 
  • Yearning for justice and freedom; holding on to hope that his torturers would face consequences and that he would be released.
  • Adrián had been accused of possessing illegal firearms and drug trafficking when he was arrested on September 26, 2012.  He was threatened, badly beaten and nearly asphyxiated during twelve hours of torture at the hands of local state police.  Neighbours saw him being beaten while police took him back to his house to carry out a search.  The police then presented him to the media, with drugs and weapons.  When they later turned him over to prosecutors the police added that they had stopped him in a stolen vehicle and that he had voluntarily admitted to being a drug trafficker. 

A government doctor said that his injuries were minor and would heal readily.  He then collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital for emergency life-saving surgery. The hospital’s medical reports made it clear that he had many serious injuries, including to his lung, bladder and abdomen, caused by the relentless beatings he had endured.

Ever since, Adrián has protested that the accusations were false, that his only admissions were to end the torture and that the drugs and weapons had been planted by police. He repeated that forcefully and emotionally during our prison visit.  Sandra Esquer’s diligent investigations have uncovered evidence that has backed up Adrián’s account; that he had not been in a stolen vehicle, was falsely identified as a drug trafficker and that the drugs and weapons were indeed likely planted. The criminal charges against the three police officers certainly back up his account of being tortured. But he remains behind bars.

So, while this is a great victory, there is still far to go.  The police officers still need to be brought to trial.  There will very likely be further challenges along that path.  Judith and Sandra will continue to watch, press and speak out; as will we.

Amnesty International’s campaign to StopTorture in Mexico is making a difference.  Angel Colon, a torture survivor who I met behind the bars of a different Mexican prison just a few days before the visit with Adrián, was freed back in October.  We will be welcoming him at our Annual General Meeting in Halifax next month. Claudia Medina, whose campaign for justice for the torture she endured is central to our campaign, has seen the all of the groundless criminal charges she faced  dropped.  And now there are criminal charges against the police officers responsible for torturing Adrián Vázquez.

The cases remind us that torture is indeed a grim, urgent crisis in Mexico.  The successes make it clear, however, that speaking up and speaking out makes a difference.  Torture can indeed be stopped in Mexico.

Very critically, though, Adrián Vázquez is not free.  Amnesty International is calling on Mexican authorities to drop the charges against Adrián and release him from prison immediately.  I intend to sit down this afternoon and write Mexico’s Ambassador to Canada with that demand, and follow it up with a meeting.

Just as I finish off these words I’ve had a message come in from Sandra, Adrián’s remarkable lawyer.  To me, and to Amnesty, she says:  Many thanks.  This would not have happened without Amnesty’s support.  And now we hope ‘señor Adrián’ will be released soon.  We most certainly do.

Join Amnesty International’s campaign to #StopTorture.

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