Facing a defamation case first brought back in 2002 by an official in Chiapas state in southern Mexico, Angel Mario Ksheratto, of regional daily Cuarto Poder, has been in jail since 11 November 2006. On 19 December, a local judge released him on payment of 33,500 pesos (about 2,300 euros) bail put up by state governor Juan Sabines Guerrero. The journalist had already spent 18 days in prison, from 4-22 February this year, before being freed on bail equivalent to 8,000 euros. He was previously arrested on two occasions in January 2003 and October 2005.
Chiapas press law, the harshest in all Latin American, provides for a sentence of up to nine years in prison in cases of “defamation” or “denigration”. Forty journalists working for state-run media are currently facing this process. In the light of this situation, the governor, Juan Sabines Guerrero recently proposed a law of exception for journalists to the State Congress, but without recommending a general decriminalisation.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the Chiapas governor’s move in support of Mario Ksheratto, but is not satisfied with the legislative status quo. “While federal law is moving towards decriminalisation, it is absurd to maintain criminal procedures at state level,” the organisation said. “The legislation in Chiapas represents a serious threat to press freedom”.
13.11.06 - Journalist Angel Mario Ksheratto sent back to prison
Reporters Without Borders has condemned “judicial hounding” of journalist Angel Mario Ksheratto of local daily Cuarto Poder, which has just led to him being sent back to prison for failing to observe his bail conditions.
Officials of the Chiapas State Investigation Agency (AEI) in southern Mexico arrested Mario Ksheratto on 11 November and sent him back to El Amate jail where he had already served 18 days in prison from 4-22 February 2006 before being released on bail of the equivalent of 8,000 euros.
Mario Ksheratto is being sued for “defamation” by a Chiapas state official whom he reported was implicated in a case of embezzling public funds. Under local legislation, which is harsher than in other states in the country, he faces five years in prison and a fine equivalent to 75 days of a minimum salary.
He has been arrested three times, in January 2003, October 2005 and February 2006. Each time he has been accused of failing to fulfil the condition of signing the bail register once a week, a formality requiring him to travel 120 kilometres from his workplace and home.
24.02.06 - Angel Mario Ksheratto released on bail after 18 days in prison
Angel Mario Ksheratto, of the daily Cuarto Poder, was released on 8,000 euros bail on 22 February after 18 days at the high security El Amate prison, 90 kilometres from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Chiapas State. The judge finally agreed to reduce the bail that had initially been set at 10,000 euros and colleagues and friends of the journalist were able to help put up the amount demanded.
Mario Ksheratto still faces a defamation charge brought by a state official, whom he reported was implicated in embezzlement of public funds in 2002. Under the state criminal code, which has harsh press laws, he faces a jail sentence of five years and a fine equal to 75 days of a minimum salary.
10.02.06 - Exorbitant bail set for journalist arrested over libel suit
Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the arrest of Angel Mario Ksheratto of the daily Cuarto Poder on 4 February in the southern state of Chiapas over a libel action, and the very high bail of 10,000 euros set by a judge on 8 February. This is the third time Ksheratto has been detained because of the same lawsuit, in which he faces up to five years in prison.
“The repeated detention of Ksheratto constitutes harassment,” the press freedom organisation said in a letter to the Chiapas high court. “Imprisonment for press offences has no place in a democracy and it is absurd that the state of Chiapas maintains this penalty when it has been abolished in other Mexican states.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The constitution says the amount of bail should take account of a defendant’s earnings and assets, but this is not the case here. We call for Ksheratto to be freed at once or, at the very least, for his bail to be reduced enough so that he can obtain his release in order to defend himself.”
Chiapas school department chief María del Pilar López Hernández is suing Ksheratto for libel because he reported in Cuarto Poder in August 2002 that she used public funds to buy a house. In February 2004, the Chiapas legislation increased the minimum prison term for libel from two to three years, and the maximum from five to nine years. Fines were also increased.
After Ksheratto was arrested for the first time, on 9 January 2003, he was required to go and sign a bail register once a week. Each time he had to travel to a courthouse located 120 km from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital, where he works. He was re-arrested last October without a court warrant and was held for several hours before being released.
He was detained on 4 February because a judge in Tuxtla Gutiérrez held that he had not complied with previous court requirements in this case. It was the same judge who, four days later, set an amount of bail way out of his financial reach. His lawyer, Gabriel Soberón, told Reporters Without Borders yesterday he would file a request for the bail to be reduced. But the courts have up to 30 days to respond and Ksheratto will have to remain in detention in the meantime, he said.