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Mexico: Jailed Environmentalists Lose Appeal

UN Wire
August 19th, 2001

A Mexican federal court Tuesday rejected an appeal by two Mexican activists jailed in 1999 while they were leading an anti-logging campaign, their defense attorney said.

The two men, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, were jailed in May 1999 for seven and 10 years respectively on marijuana and gun possession charges. The two men claim they were arrested for leading a peasant movement to stop illegal logging in their Pacific coast state of Guerrero, one of the country's poorest states.

International rights groups and environmentalists have launched a massive support campaign for the activists, whom they call political prisoners, claiming the men are being persecuted by local logging bosses who hold power in the courts. The case even earned attention from President Vicente Fox, who took office in December. Fox called for a review of the case after meeting with human rights groups and lawyers for the defendants, and in May the federal court agreed to consider the case.

Last year, Montiel was recognized for his environmental activism by being awarded the $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, an honor considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for ecology. In February, Montiel and Cabrera won the Sierra Club's prestigious Chico Mendes award (Reuters/Planet Ark, Jul 19).

According to the Sierra Club, the convictions of Montiel and Cabrera were upheld "in spite of evidence that they were tortured into confessing to crimes they didn't commit and in spite of consistent public support from President Fox and members of his administration for their release. This is the clearest indication yet that in Mexico, it simply isn't safe to be an environmentalist and that the old guard in Mexico is still in power."

"This stunning ruling against Rodolfo and Teodoro will have an extreme chilling effect on other environmentalists in Mexico," said Alejandro Queral, of the Sierra Club's Human Rights and the Environment Program. "President Vicente Fox's administration, which has been trying to position itself as a leader on human rights, has lost much credibility, not only among the human rights and environmental communities, but also among the international community" (Sierra Club Web site).

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