The Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) last month secretly rearrested seven soldiers in connection with an incident known as the Tlatlaya massacre, in which 22 presumed criminals were killed by the army in México state on June 30, 2014.
According to the newspaper El Universal, which reported the arrests on Thursday, seven soldiers including a former captain who were released between 2015 and 2016 due to a lack of evidence were rearrested by military police and placed in custody at a military prison in Mexico City in mid-March.
Four of them were released on bail on March 26 but are required to report to authorities in person on a daily basis, according to government sources who spoke with El Universal. The other three soldiers remain incarcerated.
The newspaper asked both Sedena and the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) whether the soldiers will be tried in a military or civilian court but received no response.
According to the Defense Ministry’s original official version of events, the 22 presumed criminals died in a gun battle with the army in a warehouse in Tlatlaya, a municipality in southwestern México state.
However, the National Human Rights Commission concluded from its own investigation that 15 of the 22 victims were executed extrajudicially. Other human rights organizations reached the same conclusion, which was supported by witnesses.
There was also evidence that soldiers altered the crime scene to make it appear that the civilians had died in a gunfight rather than in cold blood.
The rearrest of the seven soldiers came after federal prosecutor for human rights, Sara Irene Herrerías Guerra, said last October that the Tlatlaya case was not closed and that the FGR had seven arrest warrants waiting to be executed.
Herrerías said at the time that the FGR had taken statements from four generals, a lieutenant, a soldier and the owner of the warehouse where the massacre occurred on June 30, 2014.
She also said the FGR would collaborate with Sedena to arrest the soldiers that allegedly perpetrated the illegal killings. Herrerías indicated at the time that the intention was to try the soldiers in a federal court.
The seven were originally arrested in September 2014 for a range of crimes including homicide, abuse of authority and concealment. Four of the soldiers were released in October 2015 while the three others were set free in May 2016.
More than five years after the massacre, the same court that freed the soldiers ordered their recapture. That decision, handed down in October 2019, came in response to an appeal filed by the FGR, which argued that three of the soldiers had homicide charges to answer and all seven should face trial for improper exercise of public service.
The Centro Prodh human rights group, one of the organizations that reached the conclusion that soldiers acted illegally in killing at least some of the 22 slain civilians, said the arrest of the seven troops for a second time was important.
“It wouldn’t have occurred without the perseverance of the victims and without the control of the judicial power over the investigation,” it said on Twitter.
Centro Prodh, which is providing legal representation for a survivor of the massacre, said the rearrest of the seven soldiers doesn’t bring to an end “outstanding matters of justice in the case.”
“Determining the exact number of victims [of extrajudicial killings] and investigating the chain of command in the order to kill continue to be essential,” it said.
“Tlatlaya is an emblematic case of the risks of [the] militarization [of public security] and of the unwillingness of the army to be held accountable before civilian authorities,” Centro Prodh concluded.
Source: El Universal (sp)