Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mexico's Gestapo Law

Feb. 29 update: Mexico's Chamber of Deputies removed warrantless house searches from the Gestapo law, which passed on February 26 by a landslide. While the some claim that the Gestapo law has been defeated, or that lawmakers took the "Gestapo" out of the law before passing it, it's important to note that all other controversial measures remain. This includes the ability to hold detainees incomunicado for up to 80 days. The constitutional reform has not yet become law because the Chamber of Deputies version must be reconciled with the previously passed Senate version, which does include warrantless house searches.

Mexico is the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Iraq. Most journalists seem to die at the hands of drug cartels, though every now and then paramilitaries kill someone like Brad Will. The Mexican government's unwillingness to protect journalists and its blatant attempts to cover for their murderers create an environment where it's acceptable to mess with reporters. One recent case involves two Narco News correspondents. From La Jornada:

Reporters Harassed

Juan Trujillo Limones (a La Jornada and Ojarasca contributor) and Raúl Romero Gallardo, reporters for the Narco News electronic bulletin, have been subjected to spying and unlawful entry into their Mexico City apartment. On both occasions the "visitors" have made sure Trujillo and Romero knew they were there. On the night of January 25-26 they inspected their computers and left them on, and on February 1 they left the television on. Neighbors have confirmed the presence of strange people outside the building. We believe these acts are linked to the reporters' activity. They've covered various independent indigenous movement activities, and now they join the ranks of journalists who've been harassed recently. Early effects of the "Gestapo law"? We demand security and respect for our colleagues' work.

Ojarasca supplement: Hermann Bellinghausen, Eugenio Bermejillo, Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, Ramón Vera Herrera, Yuriria Pantoja Millán
What is this Gestapo law? For starters, I couldn't tell you its real name because everyone, including the corporate media, just calls it "the Gestapo law." Obviously inspired by the US government's USA PATRIOT Act, it is a constitutional reform that, if approved, will legalize warrantless house searches in cases where police feel there is "a current or imminent danger." It would also allow the Mexican government to hold detainees incommunicado for up to 80 days. This last part particularly terrifies Mexicans who, in an attempt to stem the disappearances and torture that were so widespread in previous decades, fought for a slightly more transparent judicial process in which detainees must be brought before a judge and presented to the public within 72 hours of their arrest. Rosario Ibarra, a PRD senator and the mother of a disappeared son, says doing away with these protections promotes torture.

While most PRD members of congress initially supported the Gestapo law, some are backtracking. Rep.
Humberto Zazueta Aguilar (PRD) asked his fellow lawmakers, "Are we going to allow the police--the same ones who are currently being disarmed because of their involvement in organized crime--to be the ones who decide when there is a threat that justifies entering people's homes?"

For their part, APPO members, student organizations, and Other Campaign adherents like the Brigada Callajera (Street Brigade), Atenco's Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de a Tierra (Peoples' Front in Defense of the Land), and the Communist Party of Mexico have mobilized to oppose the proposed constitutional reform. They argue that the government will use the law to make what happened in San Salvador Atenco in 2006 the norm for the rest of the country, specifically Oaxaca, allowing police to do warrantless house-to-house searches during protests, round up suspicious-looking people, and torture and rape incommunicado detainees for up to 80 days. However, if Atenco taught us anything, it's that with or without this law, police will be police. The Gestapo law will simply sanctify behavior that's already common practice. Just ask Juan Trujillo and
Raúl Romero.
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