Every major news media outlet in the world is paying close attention to the fate of Julian Assange, the spokesperson of Wikileaks who was detained on Tuesday Dec. 7th by London police. More than nine thousand kilometers away in the shadows of the justice system of the state of Chiapas, Mexico, free software activist and IT professional Héctor Anibal Bautista Flores is not so lucky.
Despite the interesting parallels between the two stories Héctor’s case has received very little media attention. It has been 6 weeks since Héctor Bautista was detained by agents of the PGJE, Chiapas state attorney general. Like Julian Assange he is also the victim of political revenge against an internet website that published information which exposed government corruption.
And like Assange, Bautista has been accused of a sexual crime. Unlike Assange and Wikileaks, Héctor never published leaked documents or expected to be the target of government authorities. Héctor worked as a systems administrator at CONECULTA, the state board of art and culture in Chiapas.
In his free time away from work he organized free software workshops and ran a private web hosting business. One of his clients is Antony Flores Merida who rented web hosting for infochiapas.com, a web portal where independent local journalists are free to publish their articles. No classified government documents were ever published on infochiapas.com.
What was published on Sept.30 was a summary of public records that exposed the alarming public debt the state of Chiapas had accumulated under the government of Juan Sabines. The information went viral and coincided with a wave of criticisms of the state government distributed via e-mail and through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. One of the campaigns organized online amassed a collection of photos of potholes in the streets of the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez and criticized the government for their lack of response.
Héctor wasn’t the author of the article nor did he direct the Twitter and Facebook campaigns but since the domain infochiapas.com was registered in his name he was the easiest target for the government’s outrage.
On November 3rd state police and agents from the PGJE, state attorney general, raided Héctor’s offices at CONECULTA.
Without presenting a warrant, they took Héctor into custody and confiscated his computers. They raided his home, confiscated his electronic devices and his car. State attorney general documents authorizing the preliminary investigation of Héctor Bautista accuse him and other journalists of making negative comments through online social networks in order to destabilize the government of Juan Sabines, inciting internet users against the government and creating social chaos that could lead to physical violence.
Those initial accusations would have been difficult to prove since records of these exchanges on social networks still exist and show nothing more that ordinary citizens exercising their right to free speech peacefully. No violent acts resulted and there is no evidence that Héctor or anyone else directed what appears to be a spontaneous expression of public dissent.
Two days later on November 5th, the government changed its strategy. State attorney general agents paraded a visibly exhausted Héctor Bautista in front of a press conference and accused him of distributing child pornography through e-mail accounts and through Youtube and Facebook.
They claimed to have obtained a confession from Héctor and said they’d found 50,000 images of child pornography on his hard drive.
Friends and supporters of Hector immediately denounced the charges as false and defended Hector’s innocence though online social networks citing the impossibility of distributing pornographic material through those services.
Through a number of blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter comments, hundreds of users have expressed their support for Hector and denounced the state government’s intent to silence critics. On November 18th, Carlos Emilio Ruiz Llaven, a co-worker of Héctor, was detained with unnecessary force by agents of the PGJE, state attorney general’s office. After refusing to sign a document that would incriminate Hector he was released by government agents and promptly fired from his job at CONECULTA.
Héctor’s lawyers obtained an “amparo”, a court order for protection against the action of authorities signed by a federal judge but the PGJE, state attorney general of Chiapas ignored the amparo and ordered that Héctor be transferred to a state penitentiary. With limited access to his lawyers and human rights monitors Héctor is being held at “El Amate” state penitentiary in Cintalapa, Chiapas while he awaits his trial. We have heard that from the Wandsworth prison in london Julian Assange is allowed to make phone calls. If that’s true, we’d like to ask him to call Héctor Bautista in El Amate and tell him that “truth will prevail”. Here in Mexico it doesn’t look that way.
NB Hector was released from Amate prison on 12 December and the charges were withdrawn.