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Alberto Patishtán's Struggle for Freedom and 'Fair and Equal' Due Process

Isaín Mandujano, Proceso, 29 March 2013
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas - Imprisoned for thirteen years, the bilingual indigenous teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez is awaiting a ruling from the Collegiate Court in the legal proceedings against him for the killing of seven policemen, during which failures of due process were incurred, as alleged by his defence.
A positive outcome would end his ordeal; otherwise, he will have to serve his sentence of sixty years in prison. The final decision will come in the first half of April.
Turbulent years in Chiapas followed the Zapatista uprising of January 1, 1994, and three weeks before the PRI would lose both the presidency [ending its 70-year hold on power] and the governorship of Chiapas, on the morning of June 12, 2000, seven state troopers were shot dead in an ambush in the hamlet of Las Lagunas Las Limas in the municipality of Simojovel. Among them were the chief of police of the Secretariat of Security and Civil Protection (SSyPC), Francisco Pérez Morales and the local police chief of El Bosque, Alejandro Pérez Cruz.
The ambushed uniformed [officers] came from the Simojovel Municipality and were heading to the village of El Bosque, governed by Manuel Gómez Ruiz, with whom Alberto Patishtán Gómez had political differences stemming from Election Day....
In the ambush where seven policemen lost their lives, the only survivors were the mayor's son, Rosemberg Gómez Pérez, who was driving the van, and state policeman, Belisario Gómez Pérez, who 'played dead' among the bodies of his five comrades killed in the truck.
The ambush was lethal. One hundred bullets were fired. They were hooded men who had previously prepared trenches to await the passage of the uniformed men.
As soon as the events occurred, speculation began that it had been the work of members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). It was even said that it could have been members of the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) or a paramilitary group, like the one three years earlier that had acted in Acteal, Chenalhó, in order to agitate in the days before the July 2 federal election day.


What is certain is that one week later, the bilingual indigenous teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez was captured. He was neither Zapatista nor was he of the EPR, nor did he even belong to any political group.
In an interview, Patishtán recalls that his biggest mistake was antagonizing the PRI mayor Manuel Gómez Ruiz, whose son was seriously wounded in the ambush. Like him, another indigenous man was arrested and tortured, accused of murder but released three months later.

From the prison where he is being held, he said that he was the victim of physical and psychological torture from the moment of his arrest.
He also states that all his individual rights were violated from the outset. And that the public defender who represented him at first, a Ladino, pretended to defend him but ended up "sinking" him.
Despite the fact that witnesses testified that on the day of the massacre the teacher was in town, meeting his classes at the primary school, the law sentenced him. Other incriminating testimonies carried more weight, versions that stated that they saw him the day of the ambush.
It is surprising to Patishtán Gómez that the Public Ministry [prosecution] and the judge of the criminal branch who sentenced him to sixty years in prison might have conspired.
In his defence, he claimed that he had never used arms, "not a single bullet shell", and that alone he would not have been able to kill seven policemen and leave two others wounded. And even less would he have reason to do so since the political struggle in his pueblo was civil and peaceful, never armed.
Activist and Defender
Even in prison, Patishtán hasn't ceased being an activist and defender of his indigenous brothers. He supports indigenous prisoners as a translator, more than once he has read their criminal files for them.
He has gained the esteem of his fellow prisoners. He brought his work as a teacher to prison where he has taught reading and writing to illiterate indigenous men. Prison was less heavy for him if he kept busy helping his fellow prisoners.
In this process, he joined the indigenous Zapatista inmates with whom he had a great affinity for their work in civil resistance in El Bosque.
Patishtán declared himself to be a member of The Other Campaign of the EZLN and emerged as a leader and spokesman of The Voice of El Amate [fig tree, indigenous]. The other indigenous inmates, the majority of whom are Tzotziles and others who are Tzeltales love Alberto Patishtán Gómez.

Imprisoned but Not Forgotten

Almost all were released, but not him. So the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre assumed Patishtán's defence. In reviewing his file, a number of irregularities were found, violation of due process being the most serious.
Dozens of non-governmental organizations in Chiapas, in Mexico, and around the world have spoken out for the freedom of Patishtán Gómez. His photo has been circulated throughout various countries from where his freedom is demanded, mainly in Europe.
Hundreds of letters have been sent to the authorities, judges and magistrates supporting Patishtán's freedom.

On January 26, 2010, just a year before his death, Bishop Samuel Ruiz García came to his cell in the prison of San Cristóbal de Las Casas to deliver to him the recognition created in his honour by various organizations, the recognition "Jtatic Jcanan Lum" for his hard work in defence of the human rights of his fellow prisoners.
In 2010 Alberto Patishtán reported that he was suffering from glaucoma in his eyes, an irreversible disease that is slowly dimming his sight. His health situation was exacerbated by the lack of health care that exists within the State Centres for Reinsertion and Social Rehabilitation. [Note: his health condition was later found to stem from a brain tumour, not glaucoma].
On October 20, 2011, while he was on a hunger strike in solidarity with La Voz del Amate, he was moved to the Federal Rehabilitation Centre in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, as punishment for his struggle for freedom and for the defence of human rights. He spent several months at this facility more than 2000 kilometres [more than 1200 miles] away from his family.
His uprooting from Chiapas was at the request of the government of Chiapas, in particular the current secretary of the government of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, Noé Castañón León, who has occupied the post since the administration of former Governor Juan Sabines Guerrero. Governor Sabines also promised to arrange Patishtán's freedom but never kept his word.
Chiapas Governor Velasco Coello has now spoken out publicly for Patishtán's freedom. The freedom of the Frenchwoman Florence Cassez raised hope that Patishtán Gómez might be able to regain his freedom.
Supreme Court

Alberto Leonel Rivero, attorney for the Office for Strategic Defence of Human Rights, AC, succeeded in arranging for the case to come to the First Chamber of the Supreme Court on March 6.
Justices Olga Sánchez Cordero and Arturo Zaldívar voted for the Court to hear and resolve the matter; however, Justices José Ramón Cossío, Jorge Pardo and Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena refused, so they sent the case to the Appellate Court based in Tuxtla Gutiérrez [Chiapas].
The case caused such outrage that even Subcomandante Marcos himself, who had rarely spoken demanding Patishtán's freedom, broke his silence:
"The justice system rewrites its ridiculousness (which rhymes with Cassez) by denying freedom to Professor Alberto Patishtán Gómez and so condemns him for being indigenous in Mexico in the XXI century. But the Professor resists, let alone the indigenous Zapatista communities ... ", reads the text of "They and We VII. The Smallest, 6.6. The Resistance" released on March 9, 2013.

Ruling Expected Soon

It is expected that in the first or second half of April, the Circuit Court of Appeals in Tuxtla might resolve if he is to be freed deriving from failures of due process or he is to continue still in prison.

Amnesty International

Last week, Amnesty International (AI) asked the federal courts for the liberation of Patishtán Gómez by stating that they have detected: “serious flaws in the process, including irregularities and contradictions in the testimony of the witness."
On March 20, AI sent a letter to the judges of the First Collegiate Court Twentieth Circuit in order to make them aware of the organization's concerns regarding the case of the indigenous Professor Alberto Patishtán.
"After thoroughly reviewing the Patishtán case, Amnesty International has concluded that there were serious flaws in the process, including irregularities and contradictions in the testimony of the witness who identified Alberto Patishtán as responsible for the crimes. This testimony was taken into account, while the evidence indicating that Patishtán was elsewhere during the ambush, was thrown out," says the agency.
The organization indicated that Alberto Patishtán had no access to an adequate defence, as both his public defender and a subsequent advocate acted with notable shortcomings.
Likewise, AI says that on various occasions it has documented the failure of Mexico's justice system to guarantee fair and equal [legal] processes, especially when the accused is an indigenous person of scarce economic and social resources.
The organization said that it hopes the Appellate Court will respond with a fair and exemplary verdict that recognizes the progress in the obligation to comply with international human rights treaties, including the right to a fair trial and effective judicial appeal.
"It is essential that it might help establish case law such that cases like that of Alberto Patishtán are not going to happen again," said AI.

Translation by Jane Brundage

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