After more than a week in detention, four Spanish citizens from the autonomous province of Catalonia were released Monday night after federal immigration authorities confirmed their legal entry into Mexico.
Laia Serra, Ariadna Nieto, Nuria Morelló and Ramón Sesén were arrested with a Mexican citizen, Damián Reséndiz, in Oaxaca City on August 5th. The state police agency, SEPROCI, alleges the arrests came in response to an incident of disturbing the peace (in legalese: causing “a scandal in a public roadway”). The 5 arrestees deny this, saying their detention was without warning or cause.
According to their testimonies, the five were walking down Independencia street at about 9:30pm on August 5th when they were stopped by police in dark blue uniforms (state police) riding in pick-up trucks. The five have alleged mistreatment by Oaxacan police in a written communique released a few days ago.
The Mexican citizen was released on the morning of August 6th after paying a nominal fine. The Spanish nationals were handed over to local immigration authorities for failure to document their legal status in the country. All of the Catalans say that their belongings (including cash, passports, and visas) were stolen by police during their arrest, thereby making them unable to prove their immigration status. The four were escorted by the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) to an immigration detention facility in Mexico City on Tuesday, August 7th.
The four Catalans and Mexican national had reportedly just left a public screeing of a documentary about the Zapatista international encounter that that had recently wrapped up in the neighboring state of Chiapas. A statement issued by Radio Okupa (a collective to which the Mexican arrestee belongs) indicates that the police had mentioned something about “projecting EZLN movies” at the moment of arrest.
Some press coverage in English has alleged that the Catalans were arrested for participating in political activity. Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution prohibits the participation of foreigners in internal political matters. Although the original sense of Article 33 was too prevent the invervention of foreign states or interests in Mexico’s government, it has since been used as the pretext for deporting foreign nationals accused of political activism. It’s worth mentioning that the “illegal political activity” accusation has not been getting much play in the Mexican press, probably because it’s not the official reason given by the Oaxacan or immigration authorities.
It is interesting to note that one of the Catalans happens to be a human rights attorney with the International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights (CCIODH), which was one of the first international human rights organizations to travel to Oaxaca in the wake of the massive November 25th, 2006 crackdown against the movement to oust the governor. The attorney reportedly contacted the CCIODH office, which then contacted the office of Senator Rosario Ibarra, who is the president of the Mexican Senate’s Human Rights Commission. Ibarra’s staff attorney obtained a judicial order to prevent the deportation of the detained Catalans.
The four Spanish nationals said upon their release Monday night that they will give further details about their ordeal once they have a chance to process it calmly and speak with “a cooler head”.
It is widely expected that the four will seek to bring legal action against the state police in Oaxaca for such crimes as wrongful arrest, abuse of authority, and theft of official documents, but no legal action has been announced at this time.