ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the recent arrest of human rights defender, Mario Luna, and the apparent political motivation guiding the case. We find that the arrest is an attempt to silence Mario for his outspoken criticism of the Sonora government.
Yesterday, Mario Luna, the Secretary of the traditional authority of Vicam and spokesperson for the Yaqui Tribe in the Mexican State of Sonora, was detained and taken into custody. He and fellow spokesperson, Tomas Rojo (who has not been detained), have had an arrest warrant out against them since 2013 and could be facing a four-year sentence.
Mario and Tomas are accused of aggravated deprivation of liberty and theft of a vehicle as a result of an internal dispute within the Yaqui tribe community. They deny the unsubstantiated charges. The criminal investigation does not place Mario at the scene of the alleged crime and the testimony is inconsistent.
Mario is a key figure for the Yaqui tribe in the water movement: he is the indigenous person nominated to speak on their behalf, and has been defending the Yaqui tribe’s rights in the context of the construction and operation of the Independence Aqueduct. The community has been working to prevent the diversion of water from the Yaqui River – of which the tribe has 50% ownership – to the aqueduct.
The Yaqui tribe in Sonora has demonstrated publically against the construction of the aqueduct. They have called on the government to provide substantial, relevant and quality information to support a continued consultation process and to guarantee water rights for the community. The government has only given them technical information which was not provided in their language limiting their ability to engage in a meaningful consultation process.
The Supreme Court has already confirmed that the consultation process has been insufficient and therefore violated the rights of the Yaqui Tribe. Earlier this year, in July, the Judicial Branch ordered the government to stop the water extraction until the consultation process had finished. This has not happened. Instead, there has been a smear campaign against the tribe that alleges they want to deprive those in Hermosillo of water.
There is widespread concern that the charges against Mario and Tomas are motivated by attempts to silence them for their legitimate protests. The President of Mexico and the Governor of Sonora, Guillermo Padrés, must answer the international community’s questions about the consultation process and how this relates to Mario Luna´s detention. They must also respond to concerns regarding the lack of evidence to put Mario at the alleged crime scene and doubts surrounding whether a genuine crime was committed.