Mayan journalist Pedro Canchéhas been kept in jail for eight months by Quintana Roo Governor Roberto Borge’s administration. Canché has been incarcerated in the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto even though the evidence against him, provided by the government, has no basis in fact and does not demonstrate his culpability.
Legal proceedings have involved serious rights violations and have kept Canché in jail since 30 August 2014 on allegations of sabotage. Despite the lack of evidence against him, state authorities have launched a campaign that violates his human rights in order to silence him.
On 24 February 2015, Quintana Roo district judge Reynaldo Piñón Rangel acknowledged irregularities in the case, including human rights violations and a lack of due process. According to the judge’s findings, the government failed to prove that an act of sabotage took place or that the journalist intended to seriously disrupt the municipality’s economic or day-to-day activities.
On 20 April, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto calling for Canché’s release.
The undersigned organisations believe that Canché’s detention is related to his criticism of Governor Borge.
Canché’s journalism work gives voice to the residents of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, who live in an area where most media outlets are government-owned. For more than 20 years, Canché has denounced the situation of the Mayan community in the area, employing editorial independence—and, in recent years, making use of the Internet to disseminate information.
The actions against the journalist became more pronounced after he released a video on 24 August 2014 in which he challenged Borge, who is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to a public debate. The government then launched a smear campaign against Canché, criticising him and making negative comments about his journalistic work. Soon after, Canché discovered that an arrest warrant had been issued against him on a charge of “sabotage”, which is a serious crime under the Quintana Roo Criminal Code.
The investigation was based on testimony provided by employees of the Quintana Roo Water and Sewage Commission, who said that the journalist was at a demonstration against an increase in water service fees in the municipality that took place on 11 August. The testimony provided only stated that Canché spoke to demonstrators and took recordings with his mobile phone, which was considered to be “criminal conduct”.
The State Attorney’s Office dismissed the allegation that the journalist was at the demonstration documenting the violent expulsion of the protesters with his cell phone. In spite of this Canché was arrested and jailed.
According to an investigation conducted by ARTICLE 19, the national and state Human Rights Commissions have failed to provide any rulings in the case. The National Human Rights Commission has opened a file on the case but has failed to push for information to further its investigation when confronted with a refusal to report on the proceedings and human rights violations perpetrated against Canché. Meanwhile, the Quintana Roo State Human Rights Commission has become complicit in the case against the journalist and has refused to conduct an investigation into the actions of local authorities.
A few hours after he was detained, Canché was injured. His injuries were so severe that he was transferred to the Felipe Carrillo Puerto General Hospital for treatment of possible irreversible damages to his spine and right arm. The response to his need for medical attention has been slow and inefficient. To date he has been denied decent medical treatment. A judicial injunction was required in order to access his medical assessments and he has not been provided with adequate medical attention. According to Canché, he has been treated in a demeaning manner and has been refused information about the type and effect of the medications he has been given, which have affected his liver.
In the campaign against him, Canché has been subjected to continuous defamatory attacks via social media. The head of the state judiciary’s Public Defender’s Office, Lino Magos, has accused Canché via Twitter of being a troublemaker and an affront to journalism. In other words, the very authority charged with defending citizens is accusing and discrediting those who criticise the Quintana Roo government. Likewise, Raymundo King, a federal member of congress and state president of the PRI party, and César Mortera, president of the PRI.mx movement in Quintana Roo, have launched attacks on the journalist via Twitter.
In summary, Mayan journalist Pedro Canché remains arbitrarily imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression. The lack of independence of those responsible for seeking and administering justice has rendered the internal judicial processes ineffective in amending human rights and due process violations, and has also resulted in a failure to provide adequate and timely medical intervention. As a consequence, Canché’s health has suffered and he has sustained serious and possibly permanent damage to his physical wellbeing. His arbitrary detention has had multiple effects on his personal, family and work life. The authorities, both state and federal, bear ultimate responsibility for this situation as they have consented to Canché’s prolonged detention despite the urgent need to stop these serious violations of his human rights.
We, the undersigned organisations, call on:
- the state judge to expedite a resolution of Canché’s case in a transparent and impartial manner;
- the government of Quintana Roo to immediately free Canché, taking into account the serious due process violations in his case;
- the National Human Rights Commission to recognise the clear violations of Canché’s rights and issue recommendations immediately regarding his case.
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Committee to Protect Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
Periodistas de a Pie