Protesting Friday in New York at the Mexican Mission to the U.N.
The two Oaxacan town officials accused of gunning down Indymedia journalist Brad Will were released from prison today after a state judge claimed there was a “fading of evidence” against them.
The Mexico City daily Milenio reports that local town councillor Abel Santiago Zárate and his chief of patrol, Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello were both set free after the judge concluded that the two “could not be guilty” because they were too far away to have delivered the fatal shots.
Will was killed on October 27 while filming a street skirmish between protesters and town officials in the Santa Lucia del Camino, on the outskirts of the state capital in Oaxaca.
The judge’s ruling was based on new and conflicting evidence presented by state prosecutors, who recently tried to pin Will’s murder on the demonstrators he was filming.
According to the judge, the state’s autopsy and ballistic reports found that Will was shot by a 9 mm gun at a distance of “less than 10 meters away.” (The state’s estimate of the distance keeps changing: last week there were reports of 1 to 3 meters and 2 to 4 meters).
However, the judge said Zarate and Aguilar were firing .38 revolvers from a minumum distance of 35 meters away.
In court the two men tried to claim they had only fired in the air, despite the ample news footage and photographs showing the two officials firing directly into the crowd of demonstrators, who had been chasing the gunmen through the town after they opened fire on a protest barricade.
Several people were wounded in the shootings, including a teacher and a photographer for Milenio who got hit below the knee just as Will was shot. (Two others were killed later that day in separate attacks.)
It’s unclear whether state officials are still trying to blame supporters of the protest coalition APPO (Oaxaca People’s Popular Assembly) for Will’s murder. One news account named six other men implicated in the crime, although there was no indication of who these men are or why prosecutors suspect them.
Indymedia activists in Oaxaca immediately accused state prosecutors of a coverup and said they had “no confidence” in the ability of state officials to investigate the shooters, who are all members of the state’s governing party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused Oaxaca’s governor Ulises Ruiz of backing paramilitary-style assaults on APPO demonstrators by plain clothes gunmen tied to his party.
The news of the shooters’ release came as about 30 people stood in the rain outside the Mexican Mission to the United Nations in midtown New York to demand a “credible” investigation into Will’s murder as well as the deaths and “disappearances” of scores of other activists in Oaxaca.
Following the violent clashes this weekend, more than 200 people have been rounded up, many of them shipped off to a maxium secuirity prison in the central state of Nayarit, where there are reports of abuse and torture. At least 50 others are unaccounted for, rights activists say.
Meanwhile, new allegations are surfacing in the Mexican media suggesting that members of the PRI may have been involved in the fires that engulfed the State Supreme Court house on Saturday as well as other government offices.
The fires and destruction in the capital have been used by federal police to justify their aggressive crackdown on APPO, a coalition of unions, students, indigenous councils, and other grassroots groups that formed to seek the ouster of Governor Ruiz.
Yesterday, the state teachers union announced a strike to protest the actions by federal police, who have been raiding schools to arrest teachers who took part in the demonstrations.
“We want to call attention to these human rights violations,” said Harry Bubbins, an activist from the Bronx who was a close friend of Will, as he passed out flyers outside 2 UN Plaza, the soaring green office building where the Mexican Mission is located.” The next step is putting pressure on American Congress members to ensure there is a full State Department investigation into Will’s death.”
But given the chaos in Mexico, one wonders whether anyone is listening. Fist fights broke out in Mexico’s Congress this morning as opposing lawmkers challenged the inauguration of incoming president Felipe Calderon.
When Bubbins and another New York demonstrator tried to phone up to the Mexican Mission from the front desk, they were told by a woman who answered the phone that no one was there “because of the protests” and because the office was expecting an “exterminator.”
“What kind of exterminator?” Bubbins asked.