Reporters Without Borders today said it “firmly condemned” the physical mistreatment, including beatings and sexual abuse, which three foreign women photographers received from Mexico City police when they were arrested during a heavy-handed raid on a peace march in the suburb of San Salvador Atenco on 4 May.
The victims were María Sostres, a Spanish photographer, Samantha Dietmar, a German student of photography, and Valentina Palma Novoa, a Chilean student of anthropology and cinema production. The police also confiscated cameras, film, tape-recorders and notebooks from them. After being questioned, all three were deported.
“The behaviour of the Mexican police was a serious violation of basic rights and abuse of authority, and the impunity they seem to enjoy in this case is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on them to apologise for their excesses and to return the confiscated material to their owners. We also urge the authorities to reflect on the appropriateness of the deportations and to consider a more appropriate use of force.”
The sequence of events began on the evening of 3 May in the suburb of Texcoco, when a 14-year-old boy was killed, around 30 policemen were injured and 11 others were kidnapped by supporters of Subcomandate Marcos and his Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) following a botched police attempt to evict flower vendors by force.
A peace demonstration in support of the dead youth began at dawn the next day. At the same time, a 2,000-member police contingent launched a very violent operation with the aim of freeing their kidnapped colleagues. It left a toll of one person killed, 10 injured and more than 200 arrested, including the three young women photographers.
Palma tried to film the start of this operation. She said a large force of heavily-armed police arrived and began firing tear-gas grenades into the crowd. The situation then degenerated steadily. The three women photographers were insulted and physically mistreated. Palma said she was struck in the chest, back and legs by police using their batons. They then took her camera, purse and ID papers and forced her into a police van, while continuing to insult her.
In an interview for W Radio, Sostres said: “They handcuffed us, photographed and videoed us, and they put us in a truck, where they closed the curtains and gave us a beating (...) There was blood in the truck. They sexually abused us and they undressed us.” Dietmar told Reporters Without Borders she was also the victim of sexual abuse.
All those who had been arrested were taken to a prison. Five foreigners, including the three photographers, were separated from the others and were taken to the immigration department. After being questioned individually, all five were deported.