Chiapas: Warrantless arrest of Free Software activist

Chiapas was a pioneer in the use of digital activism by grassroots social movements. It started in 1994 with the Zapatista movement and it keep growing to become a tool of empowerment beyond the rebels. It provides alternative digital media – newspapers and radio – it helps Chiapanecos develop their own software – they even have hackerspaces in autonomous communities such as Oventik and Tzajala – and their digital communities are growing as you can see in the Chiapatuit, Fedora and Free Software community.

Héctor Bautista

After the publication of an article denouncing the high debt and the precarious financial decisions of the governor by Informe Chiapas, “InfoChiapas”, an independent investigative journal, edited by Antony Flores Mérida, a “message” was sent to the hosting provider, after some suspicious phone calls.

On November 3 approximately 15 police officers and other governmental authorities broke into Héctor Bautista office, at the State Council of Arts and Culture in Chiapas, where he works as System Administrator.The officers did not show any judicial arrest warrant and seized all his equipment, CDs, USB keys and his car.

He is being accused of different crimes, including the distribution of child pornography (using his own email accounts, which is an absurd for any tech-savvy person) and he is under domiciliary arrest, he cannot leave Chiapas until the charges are cleared and he might face a trial and even prison, if sentenced. The journalist who wrote the article is very afraid and worried about his security.

While he was detained, Héctor was not allowed to contact his family or his lawyer for a period of 18 hours. Since his equipment was seized without a judicial warrant, any officer could supplant false evidence to incriminate him. It is important to say that Héctor is a Free Software activist, member of Chiapatuit – Twitter community in Chiapas and a volunteer in training people on free/open tools.

This case is not isolated. Last month, the government dismantled a community radio “Proletarian Radio” and it should be analyzed taking into account the corruption levels of both governments and the police in Mexico. With community networks and digital savvy citizens, Internet can be a powerful tool to hold local authorities accountable and expose corruption. After the arrest, many people are blogging and twitting in solidarity using #censurachiapas – censorship Chiapas- hashtag. But it seems that someone is acting as fast as activists since websites supporting Héctor have been mirrored or hacked as reported by Censura Chiapas blog.

That is probably the reason why authorities are using legal procedures as threats – de-incentives to stop the unstoppable: a citizen voice demanding respect and response.


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