Indigenous Forest Defender Illegally Jailed in Mexico

Human rights advocates are calling for the immediate release of an Indigenous “prisoner of conscience” in Mexico who is an activist.
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Human rights advocates are calling for the immediate release of an Indigenous “prisoner of conscience” in Mexico who is an activist jailed on charges they assert were created to hide the fact that the man was fighting illegal logging in his region; they added that he is diabetic and in need of medical care.

In November of 2015, Mexican authorities arrested Ildefonso Zamora in the Indigenous Tlahuica community of San Juan Atzingo on charges of participating in a burglary. Zamora is an internationally known activist who is part of a “guardian of the forests” movement in Mexico.

The advocates, which include Amnesty International (AI), the Miguel Agustin Center for Human Rights Pro Juarez (PRODH in Mexico), Greenpeace Mexico, and State Legislator Omar Ortega, assert that the arrest of Zamora is related to his anti-illegal logging campaigns that started in 1998.

According to AI and others, the charges against Zamora are based on fabricated testimony. They point out that the prosecution’s eyewitnesses described the events "using the exact same words, as if reading them from a script." They also say the crime scene was not preserved and evidence was handled improperly.

“Ildefonso Zamora is being punished for speaking out against the damage being done to his community’s territory and environment. He should have never been imprisoned in the first place and must be released immediately and unconditionally. Protecting the environment and defending human rights are not crimes,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at AI.

Miguel Soto, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Mexico, said Zamora’s arrest amounted to retaliation for his activism and he pointed to a series of events that began in 2004 and lead to the murder of his son Aldo and the wounding of his son Miguel in 2007.

In 2004 Zamora presented video and photographic evidence of illegal logging to officials in the town of Ocuilan de Artega, Soto stated. By 2006 Mexican officials issued arrest warrants for the loggers involved and since then Zamora’s family has been harassed and attacked. In 2007, a group of men shot at Zamora’s sons Aldo and Misael, killing Aldo and wounding Misael. No trials have been scheduled in that case even though Misael identified the assailants, who were arrested.

Speaking from prison, Zamora said, “I work to stop illegal logging, and that has cost me dearly: my son’s life and my freedom. I want to continue working for my community because illegal logging is destroying large parts of the planet earth.”

While some observers are optimistic about Zamora’s case being addressed in the near future, Legislator Ortega urged his colleagues to release Zamora immediately as his condition was problematic due to beatings during his detention and that his diabetes had been aggravated by the assaults, as well as the lack of food and medications.