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MEXICO – Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and activist (d. 26 July 2008)

Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and indigenous rights activist, was beaten to death in Guerrero state, southern Mexico, on 25/26 July 2008. More than a year later, there has been silence from the Mexican authorities on the subject of the investigation and the crime remains unsolved. Gutiérrez is just one of 26 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists.

Gutiérrez, anthropologist, linguist, author of a number of books on the indigenous people of Guerrero state (see Background below for titles) and activist for the rights of the Amuzgo indigenous people, was killed late on 25 July 2008 or the early hours of 26 July 2008 while driving towards the capital of Guerrero, Chilpancingo de los Bravo. His body was found covered in bruises and cuts by the side of the Acapulco-Pinotepa highway near La Caridad community in the municipality of San Marcos, Guerrero, on the morning of 26 July 2008. Although initial police reports suggested that Gutiérrez died as the result of a car accident, it was later thought that he was beaten to death. According to his family, the vehicle in which Gutiérrez was travelling was untouched and only his filming equipment had been stolen.

A few days before his death, between 23 and 25 July 2008, Gutiérrez had visited the Suljaa’ and Cozoyoapan communities in Costa Chica, Guerrero, in connection with a documentary film he was making on indigenous cultures and traditions. Gutiérrez had been carrying out research into the indigenous people of southern Guerrero for more than 20 years, particularly in Costa Chica, and had been involved in various cultural projects there, including the community radio station Radio Ñomndaa/ La Palabra del Agua (The Word of the Water) and the establishment of the first Amuzgo community library. During his last visit to the area, Gutiérrez documented alleged human rights violations on the part of the authorities against the staff of Radio Ñomndaa, including an interview with one of the station’s founders, which he reportedly intended to include in his documentary.

According to local press reports at the time of Gutiérrez’ death, one lead pointed to the involvement of Aceadeth Rocha Ramírez, mayor of Xochistlahuaca municipality in Costa Chica. Rocha is allegedly one of a number of local political leaders opposed to indigenous movements and Radio Ñomndaa. Another lead reportedly suggested that Gutiérrez may have angered the authorities by filming members of the Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) while they were conducting a raid on the radio station.

In August 2008, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and PEN members wrote to the Guerrero state and federal authorities asking them to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Gutiérrez’ murder was carried out and that those responsible were brought to justice. However, more than a year after the killing, there has been no response from the authorities; nor have we received any reports on the progress of the investigation from other sources. Our understanding is that the crime remains unsolved.

This is particularly worrying given that Gutiérrez is just one of 26 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists. Four other print journalists have disappeared in the same period. It is our understanding that few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. Given this bleak panorama, we are understandably concerned that Gutiérrez’ murder should not meet with the same impunity.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN requests assurances from the Mexican authorities that a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila is being carried out, and details of any progress in the investigation to date. It also calls on the authorities to renew their efforts to throw light on all other unsolved crimes against writers, including the 25 murders and four disappearances of print journalists since 2004.

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, and a public update on progress into the investigation, may be sent to:

Lic. Arturo Chávez Chávez
Procurador General de la República
Av. Paseo de Reforma No. 211-213, Piso 16
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Defegacion Cuauhtémoc
México D.F. C.P. 06500
Tel: + 52 55 5346 0108
Fax: + 52 55 53 46 0908 (if a voice answers, ask “tono de fax, por favor”)
E-mail: ofproc@pgr.gob.mx
Salutation: Señor Procurador General/Dear Attorney General

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Mexican Embassy in your country.
See http://www.sre.gob.mx/acerca/directorio/embajadas/dirembajadas.htm

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

For further information please contact Tamsin Mitchell at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: tamsin.mitchell@internationalpen.org.uk