Mexico: Activists Demand Liberation of Indigenous Political Prisoner, Alberto Patishtán

Dozens of activists, human rights defenders, intellectuals and cultural figures held a rally on Wednesday in front of the Council of the Federal Judiciary in Mexico City to demand the immediate freedom of political prisoner Alberto Patishtán Gomez.

Dozens of activists, human rights defenders, intellectuals and cultural figures held a rally on Wednesday in front of the Council of the Federal Judiciary in Mexico City to demand the immediate freedom of political prisoner Alberto Patishtán Gomez. Patishtán, an indigenous teacher and pro-Zapatista activist, has been incarcerated for 13 years with a sentence of 60 for his alleged involvement in an ambush that left 7 police dead in the Mexican state of Chiapas in 2000. His supporters decry the allegations as false, stating that the authorities have no hard evidence against him, that he was framed for being outspoken against local corruption in his community and thus criminalized for his social activism.

Since his detention, Patishtán has suffered harsh treatment by prison authorities and many legal routes to secure his freedom have been exhausted, including the case being taken up by Mexico’s Supreme Court. The campaign for his liberation has broad national and international support, with many celebrities, intellectuals, notable activists, human rights organizations and even the current Governor of Chiapas calling for his freedom.

“Free Patishtán Already!”

The Committee for the Freedom of Patishtán organized Wednesday’s rally dubbed “60 Voices for the Freedom of Patishtán” to put pressure on the federal judiciary who is to decide Patishtán’s fate. The 60 invited speakers of the rally were representatives of human rights and social justice organizations, former political prisoners, social activists, cultural figures, intellectuals and recognized journalists.

Patishtán’s son, Hector Patishtán (center) accompanied the rally along with Patishtán’s attorney, Sandino Rivero (left).

Hector Patishtán calling for his father’s release.

Prominent member of Atenco’s People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), Trinidad Ramirez (center), was one of the invited speakers. Ramirez has been an important voice in demanding freedom for political prisoners. In 2006, 12 members of her organization (including her husband, Ignacio del Valle) were given harsh sentences for their participation in resisting heavy police repression against protesting flower vendors. Then Mexico State governor and current President, Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the police operation. Four years later, after a massive international grassroots campaign, all the Atenco political prisoners were released.

“Neither forget, nor forgive!”

Currently state prosecutors are drawing up a case to prosecute two police officers who were involved in the 2006 repression that left 2 dead, hundreds detained and many tortured. However the 12 former political prisoners who received abusive sentences and survived the repression have declared that they will not participate as witnesses in the trial. They view the case as a means to quickly close the wounds from 2006 and to allow impunity to reign, leaving the hundreds of other officers, their commanders and politicians who either committed the brutal repression or were the intellectual authors, off the hook.

During the rally, former Atenco political prisoner and prominent member of the FPDT, Ignacio del Valle, called in from a tour in Europe to express his support for Patishtán. Del Valle stated that “we will pull him [Patishtán] away from that beast!”, referring to the judicial system.

Gloria Muñoz Ramirez, accomplished journalist, columnist, author of The Fire and the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement, and director of the online magazine Desinformémonos, also expressed her support for Patishtán. Muñoz expressed that media must play a greater role in the cases of political prisoners, having the responsibility to report the truth rather than toe the authority’s line.

Members of the indigenous civil organization, Las Abejas, also spoke for the immediate need for justice in the case of Patishtan and for an end to impunity and injustice throughout the country. In 1997, 45 people from their community of Acteal, Chiapas were massacred by government-backed paramilitaries while attending a religious service.  Years later, the Supreme Court ordered the release of the paramilitaries responsible for the slaughter. “We have never known the face of justice,” they said during the rally.

Celebrated indigenous poet and writer, Mardonio Carballo read a letter to Patishtán thanking him for being a teacher not just in the classroom but in struggles for justice.

Carballo read: “You taught us to sing for freedom, and now it’s time to sing for yours”.

“The teacher, like the birds, teaches us to stand firm for freedom.”

A committee of 15 people, was able to force the general secretary, Luis Fernando Angulo, to sit down and dialogue with Patishtán’s supporters. The committee was made up of Patishtán’s son, his attorney, activists, human rights defenders and intellectuals.

Patishtán’s supporters were able to pressure the authorities to grant him two telephone calls. The first call came during the meeting with the Judiciary, where he was able to speak directly with the authorities that have his future in their hands.

The other was a call made to the phone of his son to greet and thank supporters who were gathered outside.