Rights groups raise concerns over police torture of political opponents in Mexico

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Police torture and imprisonment of political opponents and others is much too common in Mexico, charge human rights activists in Mexico and the United States. They say also that the record of the Mexican government's investigations into alleged torture cases is poor. Although Mexican officials insist that torture by police is an isolated occurence, they have outlined steps to improve police conduct: additional training and surprise visits to police facilities to check on performance.

In a 1986 report, Amnesty International concluded that ``torture . . . remains in common use by the police forces, particularly as a method to obtain confessions as a basis for criminal prosecutions.'' Although the report is based primarily on 1984 research on rights abuses in rural areas, it has information as recent as this year.

In an interview, Mexican human rights leader Rosario Ibarra de Piedra said: ``We have [denounced] torture for 10 years. We have no indication it has diminished.'' Founding head of the Committee in Defense of Prisoners, Persecuted, Disappeared, and Political Exiles of Mexico, she represents the leftist Revolutionary Workers Party in congress. She says there are 475 ``disappeared'' political prisoners being held illegally and clandestinely by the government. This includes 11 people seized for political reasons during President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado's administration, she says.

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Mexican authorities interviewed by this newspaper say they never found any of her charges to be accurate and accuse her of playing politics.

Her organization provided the Monitor with photocopies of several signed testimonies by current or past prisoners in which they detailed their torture by authorities. An aide to Ibarra said the government has not provided information about the cases even when given copies of the signed statements.

In an interview, ex-prisoner David Garc'ia Gonz'alez, released last November, said he was tortured by police in Mexico City after his May 1984 arrest. He was one of about a dozen students imprisoned in connection with a May 1, 1984 incident in which a Molotov cocktail was thrown at President de la Madrid. Federal police ``blindfolded me,'' he said. ``They hit me, they swung me around by the hair. They held me and kicked me in the stomach. They made me sign 30 to 40 blank sheets of paper.'' The ``confession,'' he says, was later used against him in court.

In another interview, Jaime Laguna Berber, released from prison in November 1985, said he was tortured and held incommunicado for a while in what he claims was a ``clandestine prison'' in Mexico City after his 1980 arrest. He was accused of being a member of a small Mexican guerrilla group. He did not deny that he was a guerrilla.

Mexico City Attorney General Renato Sales Gasque denies the existence of any clandestine prisons in Mexico. He said there have been ``isolated cases'' in the past in which police obtained ``confessions by illicit methods.'' He insisted he has not detected any since coming to office nine months ago. But, he added, ``I don't want to say there's been none in these nine months.'' Allegations of mistreatment are investigated, he said. He makes surprise visits to police facilities as a means of checking on police performance. Police training has been ``very deficient'' he said. In January, it will be expanded from the customary six-month period to two years.

Capt. J'esus Miyazawa, head of the Judicial Police here, said, ``We constantly have problems of discipline,'' but they are ``minor.'' The Judicial Police, similiar to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, have 2,800 agents in Mexico City. He was not aware of any on-going investigations into past torture allegations by his agents. He says prisoners claim they were tortured to convince authorities to release them.

But when the headquarters of the Judicial Police were destroyed in last year's earthquake, several Columbians were found with what the local press described as signs of torture. A Mexican criminal lawyer, Saul Ocampo, was found gagged and bound in the trunk of a car in the building's basement.

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