His observations are, of course, anything but unusual.
A report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture last fall cited Mexico's police for their crackdowns on protests between 2004 and 2006 in which it says officers allegedly sexually abused female demonstrators and beat others.
The torture committee report called on Mexico “to guarantee that the use of force is solely employed as a last resort.” The committee is made up of 10 independent experts who meet to review countries´ adherence to the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture.
The following is from the Athens (Ohio) News.
OU student gets arrested, roughed up after Mexican protest
By Mike Ludwig
Athens NEWS Campus Reporter
An Ohio University student in Mexico with the Study Abroad program got more than he bargained for when Mexican police swept him up during an anti-President Bush protest on March 13.
In an interview on Friday, senior Chris Stenken, back in Athens after his harrowing experience in southern Mexico, recounted his arrest, beatings by police, and subsequent release.
On March 13, when President George W. Bush came to Merida, a mid-sized Mexican city on the Yucatan peninsula and a quick stop on his tour of Latin America, he must not have expected a warm welcome. A small army of Mexican state police and soldiers, along with a contingent of U.S. Secret Service agents, used barbed wire and concrete fences to build an armed fortress around the Hotel Americana where Bush and his aides would be staying.
As expected, hundreds of demonstrators took the streets in protest of Bush and his policies. Among them was Stenken, who had disregarded the advice the school's Study Abroad program and joined the demonstrators, armed with a digital camera and three years of education in Latin-American studies.
Stenken, back in Athens last week after his release from jail in Mexico, described the scene. "About a week before GW was to arrive in Merida, a group of about 20 to 100 people were organizing daily protests, spontaneous marches and demonstrations against the visit of Bush, imperialism and neo-liberalism," Stenken told The NEWS on Friday. "When Bush arrived, hundreds more people became involved with the protests. There were marches three or four times a day. People marched from the center of the city and tried to tear down the wall outside the Hotel Americana, place banners on the wall, do political theater, throw things at the police and at the wall, and engage the military in dialogue."
According to Stenken, the majority of the protesters were peaceful, though some people did engage the police physically. Tensions between protesters and police finally climaxed during the last march, which ended up outside Merida's municipal building, known as the Municipal Palace. Demonstrators attempted to enter the building but were kept out by police, so they gathered outside to protest. When small bands of protesters tried to force their way into the Palace, the police called for backup.
"I'd say about 10 minutes later, two to five hundred state police jumped out of the back of pickup trucks and began running at the population in the city center, the majority of whom ran away from them," Stenken recalled. "These people weren't necessarily protesters but often just out for the night or returning home from work. I ran into a shoe store to hide myself, where I greeted an employee and told her the police were chasing people. A few moments later, about three police officers came in, threw me on the ground, started punching and kicking me and jabbing me with their police batons before dragging me out by my feet."
Stenken claimed that, like a majority of people who were arrested, he was not doing anything wrong when the police picked him up.
"I was simply sitting with my friend on the curb when the police came," he said. "I believe the police pursued me because I ran from them and was wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt."
Several members of the Mexican state police dragged Stenken from the shoe store and out into the street, he said, beating him and smashing his camera along the way.
Megann Walsh, a fellow OU student and friend of Stenken who had been standing with him when the police arrived, caught up to them and tried to explain to the police that her friend had done nothing wrong.
"After everything cleared, I went out to the street and saw Chris getting arrested and I tried to talk to them, saying es ami amigo, he is my friend, and es un estudiante conmigo, he is a student with me," Walsh said on Saturday. "I saw them beating him, especially when he tried to reach out to me. I saw them dragging him away. They didn't even care, you know? I was just a stupid white girl to them."
The police put Stenken in the back of a truck along with others who had been arrested. He said they were continuously beaten and verbally intimidated during the 15-minute drive to a local jail, where they were interrogated and beaten further.
"I was not resisting. I told them I didn't do anything, that I was a tourist and that I was not from Mexico," Stenken said. "We got to the jail where they threw us out of the truck and put us against a wall with out hands behind our heads. They yelled at us and they punched me in the rib and kicked me in the back of the leg. I suffered several baton blows to the ribs. They also took the back of my head and slammed it against the wall three times."
According to Stenken, he and the others were then taken inside the jail where they gave a urine sample before being locked in a holding cell.
"The other people in the cell seemed to be normal citizens," he said. "One was an oboe player with his instrument returning home from a concert. Another was a kid who seemed like he was at the protest. The third was an older man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them had been beaten by the police."
After a period of time in the holding cell, Stenken and his cellmates were taken to another jail called Le Ministerio. Stenken recalls about 60 others being there, most of whom had been arrested during the protest outside the Municipal Palace.
"I was basically lied to and intimidated the whole time," he said. "I was never allowed to make a phone call. They never formally told me what was charged against me."
Outside the jail walls, friends and families of the prisoners began organizing support, he said. People visited the jail and brought home-cooked meals for the inmates. Walsh also tried to visit Chris with the help of a woman named Marta, who works for a local non-profit Indignacion.
"I tried to visit Chris and they didn't want to let me," Walsh said. "I remember Marta saying, 'This isn't justice, this isn't liberty, you are not giving him his individual rights.' When I did get to see Chris, I saw two girls from the (protest) walking by and crying. They were prisoners and I know they hadn't been destructive."
With the help of a high-profile lawyer and the U.S. consulate, Stenken said he was released after three days of being held prisoner without any formal charges or hint of whether he would be out in time to return to the United States with his Study Abroad program.
"I was one of eight people who have been released that I know of," he said. "The other 60-some are presumably still in jail last I heard. They are facing $500 to $5,000 charges or significant jail time, some for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
STENKEN AND WALSH ARE not the only Americans with Athens connections who have been affected by the recent protests and social upheaval in southern Mexico. In the city of Oaxaca last Oct. 27, independent journalist Brad Will was shot and killed, allegedly by para-military patrolmen operating in the city with the support of the Oaxacan state government and its governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, while video-taping protests calling for Ortiz's resignation. Will had family in Athens, and his cousin, Susan Mitchell of Athens (a classified ad rep at The Athens NEWS), has joined the family's efforts to raise awareness about his murder and pressure Mexican authorities to bring justice to his case and to the people of Oaxaca.
"[Brad] went down there to give oppressed people a voice. All he cared about was helping people, and he paid for it with his life," Mitchell said. "We don't want any other families to go through this, so we are raising awareness about Brad and the others who have been killed."
Since Will's death, Mitchell and her family have written letters to senators and congressmen, helped organize a press conference at the National Press Club, and worked with such organizations as Friends of Brad Will, Amnesty International, Global Exchange and Reporters Without Borders, which recently rated Mexico as a "difficult situation" regarding freedom of press and the safety of journalists.
Will's parents recently went to Oaxaca to demand a fair investigation of his death. The case should be cut and dried, as several media sources have identified the gunmen in photos and Will's final video as police and/or thugs under the employ of the state. Ortiz's government, however, is allegedly dragging its feet on the issue.
"When they tried to contact the prosecutor, she was unresponsive," Mitchell said. "There is no prosecutor in the world who could witness such a videotape and not charge someone with a homicide. This prosecutor was appointed by the governor and has tried to blame the protesters when there is documented evidence that it was not them."
EVEN BEFORE THE DEATH of Will, human-rights organizations were condemning the Mexican state police for murder and repression in Oaxaca.
"Illegal militias in Oaxaca are participating in the security forces' 'dirty work'," Amnesty International's Americas Programme Director Javier Zuniga said in a statement released last August. "This needs to be urgently investigated, militias disarmed and disbanded, and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice." He was quoted in a letter sent to Mexico's procurador (attorney) general by U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz. Grijalva's letter was inspired by a conversation with Mitchell at the National Press Club and expresses concern about the situation in Oaxaca and a proper investigation to bring justice in Will's case.
"We are in it for the long run and will not stop until there is justice for Brad and the people he was giving a voice to," Mitchell said of Will's friends and family. "Although we are in pain, our pain is overshadowed by our pride."
Stenken and Walsh have not given up either. They have formed an organization in Athens called Companeros (comrades or companions) to raise awareness and financial support for those still imprisoned for speaking their minds in Merida.
"We've been talking to several bands on campus and plan to hold a benefit, Walsh said. "We do have contacts in Merida to send any money for direct support."
To find out more about supporting political prisoner in Merida, Walsh suggested people contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on Brad Will, Oaxaca and attempts to bring justice there can be found at www.friendsofbradwill.com and www.indymedia.org.