For over six months, Mayan journalist Pedro Canché Herrera has been awaiting his sentence in a cell in the state of Quintana Roo in southeast Mexico. He was arrested on August 30, 2014, and charged with sabotage by authorities in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, after recording videos, interviewing protesters, and posting photos of a sit-in against an increase in prices for water services.
Authorities felt that his leadership incited people to block entrances to the offices of the Water and Sewage Commission. The crime of sabotage is considered so serious that Canché Herrera cannot apply for bail.
Canché Herrera believes that his arrest has nothing to do with the aforementioned protests, but rather his journalistic work in the area. On his Twitter account (@pedrokanche) and Facebook page, he shared an open letter written from prison, commenting on his situation:
Para los mayas que tenemos pocas voces en los medios nacionales impresos y digitales es un golpe fuerte a la libertad de expresión que me hayan dictado auto de formal prisión por un delito forzado por realizar periodismo independiente y compartirlo por medios nacionales y digitales.
Considero que es un [sic] advertencia para todos los que hacemos en Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, y redes sociales, periodismo y reflexiones en estos medios.
Estoy Seguro que nuestro México no está en pañales como en 1968 porque existen políticos, mexicanos, amantes de la libertad que van a condenar estos hechos y van a reflexionar si este es el México que necesitamos.
Quedo a la solidaridad de periodistas de México y el mundo para que le escriban una carta al Presidente de la República para frenar este ataque a la libertad de expresión de un periodista internacional de la etnia maya.
For us Mayans who have very few voices in the national print and digital media, the fact that they have issued a formal arrest against me for an invented crime of conducting independent journalism and sharing it on national and digital media outlets is a huge blow to freedom of expression.
I consider this a warning for all of us who use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social networks for journalism and reflections.
I am sure that our Mexico is no longer in diapers like it was in 1968 because there are Mexican politicians, lovers of freedom, who are going to condemn these acts and will reflect on whether this is the Mexico that we need.
I remain at the solidarity of journalists from Mexico and around the world, hoping that they write a letter to the President of the Republic to stop this attack on freedom of expression against an international journalist of Mayan ethnicity.
In a statement released on February 23, Amnesty International said there is evidence that the state prosecutor committed injustices in the process, due to Canché Herrera's recognized journalistic work over the course of the last two decades:
Esto incluye omisiones e irregularidades en la investigación penal, y la emisión de un auto formal de prisión sin pruebas suficientes.
This includes omissions and irregularities in the criminal investigation and the issuance of a formal arrest warrant without sufficient evidence.
The organization also added:
De acuerdo con la defensa legal de Pedro Canché, las pruebas presentadas por el agente del ministerio público carecen de declaraciones firmes para probar que es responsable de dirigir el bloqueo afuera del CAPA. La única evidencia fotográfica de la protesta muestra a Pedro tomando fotos del evento.
According to Pedro Canché legal defense, the evidence submitted by the public prosecutor lacks solid statements to prove that he is responsible for leading the block outside of CAPA [the Water and Sewage Commission]. The only photographic evidence of the protest shows Pedro taking pictures of the event.
In fact, days before his arrest, the director of Quintana Roo's Judiciary Public Defense office, Lino Magos, told Canché Herrera off through his official Twitter account:
@pedrokanche @CesarinME @betoborge @dianaegzz @Vianey_Pizarro Pedro eres atentado de periodista y aprendiz de alborotador
— Lino Magos (@linomagos) August 26, 2014
@CesarinME @betoborge being tagged as a troublemaker censors my freedom of expression as an independent reporter
@pedrokanche @CesarinME @betoborge @dianaegzz @Vianey_Pizarro Pedro you are a menace of a journalist and a troublemaker in training
In prison, Canché Herrera has suffered beatings, isolation, and has been denied visits from his children. They have even threatened to take away his right to write letters. Amnesty International also added that it:
[…] ha recibido información preocupante sobre la salud actual de Pedro Canché, incluyendo la tardía atención médica en relación a heridas derivadas aparentemente de su proceso de detención. Y enfatiza la responsabilidad de las autoridades estatales para asegurar la salud y el bienestar de aquellos bajo su custodia.
[…] has received troubling information about Pedro Canché's current state of health, including delayed medical care in relation to injuries apparently sustained during his detention process. And emphasizes the responsibility of state authorities to assure the health and welfare of those in their custody.
All of this has not been enough to silence Canché Herrera, who reassuringly says that “freedom of expression is not imprisoned, the human body can be imprisoned but thoughts are free.” As such, with the help of the Article 19 organization, he periodically publishes posts to a Tumblr blog called “Diary of a prisoner of conscience“, with images, videos, and quotes detailing his arrest, his journalistic work, and thoughts on freedom of expression:
Este Tumblr elaborado conjuntamente busca replicar y difundir a través de redes sociales y medios de comunicación las anotaciones de Pedro Canché que pretenden ser apagadas bajo el encierro arbitrario por ejercer la libertad de expresión, derecho reconocido en la Constitución y tratados internacionales.
This Tumblr, developed jointly, looks to use social networks and the media to republish and share Pedro Canché's letters, which are meant to be subdued under his arbitrary imprisonment for exercising freedom of expression, a right recognized in the Constitution and international treaties.
His thoughts and experiences are without a doubt something that political prisoners around the world can relate to.
In this video interview, published by Article 19, Canché Herrera reflects on his arrest and freedom.
Es peligroso que el sistema esté como un monstruo agasapado y esté llevándose a cualquiera. Si no nos someten por el dinero, por el poder, por convencimiento, por cualquier cosa, nos van a someter por la represión. Y eso es lo peor que puede suceder.
It is dangerous that the system is like a clenching monster, taking anyone and everyone. If they do not suppress us with money, power, conviction, whatever, they are going to suppress us with repression. And that is the worst thing that can happen.
Canché Herrera's case joins the list of journalists persecuted by the governor of Quintana Roo, Roberto Borge Angulo, as Proceso magazine reports. Such is the case of Norma Madero Jiménez, owner of Luces del Siglo, a weekly magazine that exposes corruption and abuse committed by local and state authorities. In a ruling issued by the district judge, she was ordered to refrain from distributing false magazine covers and cease the spread of “defamatory, aggressive, or accusatory” messages.
In a full story about the case, written by Guillermo Rivera (@GuillermoRiverV) for emeequis, Canché Herrera said that the governor has a “phobia” of critical journalists. He also commented on what pains him to be in jail:
[…] Estoy atado de manos. No tengo medios para saber qué sucede afuera. Siento un vacío tremendo, horrible, tengo hambre de información. Eso es similar a la ceguera.
[…] Todos los días tengo que luchar contra la ansiedad. Se me colapsa la respiración. Siento una claustrofobia terrible. Sudor, sudor, sudor. Cuando me ataca la ansiedad, tengo que correr a acostarme. Cierro los ojos y hago terapia. Para controlarme, bebo varios litros de agua.
[…] My hands are tied. I have no way of knowing what's happening outside. I feel tremendous, horrible emptiness. I am hungry for information. It's similar to blindness.
[…] Every day I have to fight anxiety. My breathing collapses. I feel a terrible sense of claustrophobia. Sweat, sweat, sweat. When anxiety attacks, I have to run to bed. I close my eyes and do therapy. To control myself, I drink several liters of water.
He also stated:
Si no fuera por mi familia, esto sería doblemente horrible
If it weren't for my family, this would be twice as horrible
At the end of his letter, as a demonstration of Canché Herrera's tireless journalistic spirit, Guillermo Rivera related the following:
Aún tiene en su celda cuatro libretas y una pluma con la mitad de la tinta gastada.
He still has four notebooks and a pen with half the ink used up in his cell.