December 11, 2012
by Ana Arana
Violent confrontations in Mexico City on 1 December between police and thousands of demonstrators protesting the swearing in of President Enrique Peña Nieto continue to reverberate, as human rights and media protection organisations grapple with how to guide protesters to exercise their fundamental free speech rights.
Protesters took to the streets to express their unhappiness at the return of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), back in power after a 12-year interval. Windows were broken and firebombs thrown and tens of protestors were arrested. The Federal District Human Rights Commission has accused the police of making arbitrarily arrests and suggested that there is evidence that four protestors were tortured by police officers.
The Mexico City chapter of the freedom of expression group Article 19 has issued a safety protocol for those wishing to continue attending street demonstrations. Called a Guide to Freedom of Expression for Demonstrations, Protests and Social Disturbances, the report gives practical advice to both reporters and citizens. It suggests protesters and reporters know who organised a march and why. It also reminds journalists and others to know the proposed routes a demonstration will take and to identify easy escape routes in case of trouble. For citizens, the guide emphasises the need to understand that, while the right to protest is fundamental, they should not respond aggressively to police during a demonstration.
The protocol comes as Mexico City learned that dozens of the 69 demonstrators arrested on 1 December — including two journalists — were released by Mexican authorities because of lack of evidence that they had engaged in violent acts. Several organisations, including Amnesty International, claimed that Mexican police used “excessive force” to curb the demonstrations, which turned violent and left demonstrators and police wounded, and local businesses damaged and looted. In a statement released on 4 December, Reporters Without Borders said:
…the release of the photographers must not eclipse the fact that the president’s inauguration was marred by the use of heavy-handed police methods to suppress the right to demonstrate and, in some cases, the right to report the news.