Justice for Florence Cassez – Human rights activists demand justice in Cassez case

Source: Proceso December 12, 2012

Activists, academics, human rights proponents have published a spread in several newspapers demanding justice in the case against Florence Cassez, who was detained, jailed and condemned to 60 years in prison.

“The accusations against her were based on indefensible proofs, logically and juridically speaking. Also, Florence Cassez was violated in her right to receive a due process, leaving her in a state of defenselessness and proofs were fabricated against her from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (AFI) and the Federal Agency for Public Safety (SSPF),” cites the published document.

The spread was published in several nationwide newspapers are was signed by: Mariclaire Acosta, Director of Freedom House; José Antonio Caballero, researcher, CIDE; Miguel Carbonel, from the Institute of Legal Research at UNAM; and human rights activists Eduardo Gallo, Santiago Corcuera y Javier Sicilia, among others.

“The 60 year sentence against Florence Cassez is not based on proofs or facts that show her culpability beyond all reasonable doubt. It is a real shame for Mexican justice that she continues to be imprisoned.
We urge our Supreme Court to dictate soon the resolution than will put this grave injustice to an end,” says the documents.

Translation

Pierre Lacour
fearlessfathers.wordpress.com

Mexican justice says Cassez case decision coming in August

Fox News Latino

May 31, 2012

Mexican Supreme Court justice Olga Sanchez Cordero said in a television interview broadcast here Thursday that the case of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping in Mexico, will be decided in August.

Sanchez Cordero also reiterated in her remarks to French news channel BFMTV that she believes Cassez’s rights were violated by Mexican authorities and that, as a consequence, she should be set free.

“The matter will surely be resolved before the second half of August,” the justice said.

On March 21, she was one of two Supreme Court justices who supported a motion to immediately free Cassez. The other three justices rejected the motion, although the five-judge panel found serious rights violations in her trial and called for the evidence in her case to be reviewed.

Cassez was arrested on Dec. 8, 2005, on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway along with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, the suspected leader of the Los Zodiaco kidnapping gang.

A day later, agents from the now-defunct AFI, Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, staged a mock raid so TV cameras could film the arrest of the gang members in a wooded area near Mexico City.

The motion presented to the high court in March stated that the delay in handing Cassez, now 37, over to prosecutors and informing the French Consulate of her arrest violated her rights.

The Frenchwoman has proclaimed her innocence from the beginning, denying that she participated in kidnappings, and the case has sparked tensions between Mexico and France.

Polls in Mexico, which suffers one of the world’s highest kidnapping rates, show most people want Cassez to remain in prison.

Parents of Frenchwoman Cassez confident Mexico will free her

Reuters

By Elinor Comlay

MEXICO CITY

Tue May 22, 2012

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The parents of a Frenchwoman imprisoned in Mexico for kidnapping said on Tuesday they are optimistic the Supreme Court will free her after reviewing the case that has caused a diplomatic rift between France and Mexico.

Florence Cassez, 37, has maintained she is innocent since her arrest in 2005, but the Mexican government has defended the conviction that sentenced her to 60 years in prison.

France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy backed Cassez’s fight to be freed and her parents said the Socialist party of his newly elected successor, Francois Hollande, has assured them he will work for her release.

In March, Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected a bid to release Cassez but opened the door to reviewing the evidence in her trial, which has given hope to her parents.

“We have great confidence in the Supreme Court,” Charlotte Cassez told Reuters in Mexico City, where she and her husband Bernard were visiting Florence and meeting her lawyers.

“The judges said they are in favor of a review of the case because her constitutional rights were violated.”

Florence Cassez was arrested in December 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City with her ex-boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, who was accused of heading a kidnapping gang called the Zodiacs.

After the arrest, police, instead of first taking her to a prosecutor or advising the French Consulate, forced Cassez to take part in a staged scene of officers freeing kidnap victims in a different location. The Frenchwoman was portrayed as a kidnapper in the restaged event, which was aired on national television. Police have since admitted their wrongdoing.

A judge convicted Cassez in 2008 after a closed-door trial with no jury, typical of cases in Mexico. Key evidence in her conviction was supplied by three kidnapping victims, one of whom said she had threatened to cut off his finger.

All but one of Mexico’s five Supreme Court judges in March picked holes in the legal process that convicted Cassez, but three of them voted against freeing her.

Nevertheless, Judge Olga Sanchez, who is in charge of reviewing the case, told a newspaper earlier this month she believed the Frenchwoman should be freed.

Florence and Bernard Cassez said they are also hopeful a change in Mexico’s government after presidential elections on July 1 could help bring about their daughter’s release.

Polls show the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is likely to oust President Felipe Calderon’s conservative National Action Party after 12 years in office. Calderon is barred by law from seeking a second term, and PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto is strong favorite to win the election.

“The current government put pressure on the courts … perhaps the next government will not do that,” said Charlotte Cassez.

Anti-crime groups in Mexico have opposed freeing Cassez, saying it would be an insult to the victims of kidnapping in a nation where many of the guilty go unpunished.

Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping.

Cassez is being held at a women’s prison in southern Mexico City where her parents visit daily when they are in Mexico.

Senior Mexican judge says Frenchwoman Cassez should go free

kgmi.com

10 May 2012

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Frenchwoman imprisoned for participating in a kidnapping ring in Mexico should be released, according to the Mexican judge in charge of reviewing a case that has caused a rift between the two nations, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

Judge Olga Sanchez is one of five Supreme Court judges weighing the case of Florence Cassez, 37, who was convicted in 2008 in a closed trial. Cassez was arrested by authorities with her ex-boyfriend on a ranch near Mexico City in 2005.

The Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court, in March rejected a proposal by one of Sanchez’s fellow judges to release Cassez, but it said the evidence needed to be re-assessed, leaving Sanchez in charge of tabling a new motion to resolve the sentencing.

“For me, as I said, and I don’t want to prejudice the case, she should be released,” Sanchez told the Excelsior newspaper in a report published on Thursday.

“This is what I think for many reasons,” she added. “And now that I’ve delved into the file, I have many more reasons.”

She did not give provide additional details.

Sanchez had voted for the Frenchwoman’s release in March, but the judges have said little since then. Her comments before the new motion has been announced are unusual in Mexico.

Three of the judges in March voted against freeing Cassez, but all but one picked holes in the legal process that convicted her, which involved a televised police recreation of her arrest which was heavily criticized.

Cassez was portrayed as a kidnapper in the restaged event, which was aired on national television as if it were a real event. Police have since admitted their wrongdoing.

At the trial, one of the kidnap victims testified Cassez had threatened to cut his finger off, but she denied the accusation.

The Mexican government has backed her conviction. Polls show a majority of Mexicans share that view.

Anti-crime groups have also opposed freeing Cassez, saying it would be an insult to the victims of kidnapping in a nation where many of the guilty go unpunished. Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping.

Some leading intellectuals have called for Cassez’s release and say the case illustrates Mexico’s failed justice system.

(Reporting by Lorne Matalon; Editing by Paul Simao)

For Mexican police, splashy arrests trump criminal convictions

McClatchy Newspapers

By Tim Johnson

MEXICO CITY — It all began with confusion over a name, and it still isn’t over for Aldo Christopher Granada Rivera. After eight months in a Mexican prison, he developed a facial tic and flinches at the sound of sirens.

Granada finally went free. But he’s one of many victims of Mexican law-enforcement officials’ practice of parading detainees in public “perp walks” and public news conferences, hoping to regain the trust of a citizenry besieged by organized crime.

Human rights officials say Mexican authorities have nabbed innocent people repeatedly and smeared them in front of television cameras to burnish their image as crime fighters. They demand an end to the practice.

“There’s a problem with a lack of confidence in the judiciary,” said Luis Gonzalez Placencia, the human rights ombudsman for the federal district of Mexico City. “It would improve if there were efficient police, and if prosecutors could win convictions.”

But many authorities prefer a triumph in the court of public opinion over a victory in a court of law.

“They’ve settled on having a big arrest in the media rather than on winning a conviction,” Gonzalez Placencia said.

With mounting regularity, security agents detain people they allege are drug lords, murderers or kidnappers, then call in reporters and photographers to display the detainees amid piles of weapons and ammunition, often sandwiched between ninja-looking hooded shock troops.

“It tips the scales of justice against a suspect before they even enter a courtroom,” said Nik Steinberg, a Mexico researcher at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York.

Few people snared in the web of criminal justice may seem as unlikely as Granada, a 30-year-old chemical engineer who saw his photo — taken from his driver’s license — on television on June 25, 2009, with the announcement that prosecutors considered him one of the capital’s most-wanted criminals. He knew only that the charges were serious. “I didn’t know whom I had supposedly killed,” he said.

He went into hiding and stayed there for months while advocates tried to find out more. After the birth of a daughter, he no longer could bear staying away from his wife, Yuriria Campos, their son and the newborn. He came home.

On Nov. 16, 2009, a commando unit intercepted him as he rode his bicycle.

“They pulled me aboard one of their cars. They never let me see their faces. They said they knew who I was,” Granada recalled. He was taken to the capital’s North Prison and thrown into a small cellblock with more than 20 other detainees.

It turned out that police thought that someone with his name belonged to a gang that had kidnapped a law student, collected a ransom, then dumped the student’s dead body.

The real culprit’s name was Aldo Christopher Granada Gonzalez, slightly different but similar enough that police thought they could pass him off.

 

Seeking justice, rather than just a warm body on which to pin blame, the victim’s father tracked the right man to Sinaloa state in Mexico’s northwest. After the man’s arrest, he, too, was thrown in North Prison.

The victim’s father went before the judge to explain the mistaken identity.

“He told the judge I wasn’t the right person,” Granada said.

Rather than seek to repair a travesty of justice, however, the judge kept both men in prison.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry but the legal process must continue,’ ” said Campos, Granada’s wife.

It would take another five months for Aldo Christopher Granada Rivera to regain his freedom, only to endure lasting damage to his reputation and psyche.

After seeing his photo splashed on television under the words “Most Wanted,” neighbors began to suspect that the entire Granada family was up to no good.

“We’ve been stigmatized,” Granada said. “We are branded as a family of murderers and kidnappers.”

Gonzalez Placencia, the capital ombudsman, said his office had identified 21 cases of people put through public “perp walks” or portrayed as criminals by law enforcement officials, only to be freed for lack of evidence.

“What’s bad is that these ‘perp walks’ create a public perception. The victims can’t defend themselves,” he said.

In cases where people are arrested by mistake, Gonzalez Placencia wants the state to publicize their release with the same vigor it uses to announce their arrests, and to offer compensation.

Mexico’s runaway violence — and public concern about safety — is the underlying reason for police enthusiasm at showing off alleged criminals and demonstrating headway against crime. Most citizens hold police and prosecutors in low regard.

A report issued this week by a public policy center, Mexico Evalua, found that only one in 10 Mexicans have much confidence in law enforcement.

The report says 80 percent of Mexican crimes go unsolved, including murders.

A blend of factors has led to the high-profile televised exhibition of alleged criminals, experts say, including news outlets eager for higher ratings, a public anxious for any improvement in security and a desire by all levels of government to show improvements in their battle against crime by capturing wanted criminals.

“There isn’t a sense of, ‘We need to prove that this person is guilty.’ It’s just a presumption of guilt,” said Eric L. Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington research institution.

Lawmakers addressed the issue of due process for detainees with a 2008 constitutional revision that established rights such as the presumption of innocence. But they’ve never enacted a criminal procedures code to put that presumption of innocence into day-to-day law.

The ambiguity, Olson said, is also apparent in public attitudes.

“On the one hand, people acknowledge that the system is unjust. On the other hand, they want quick and decisive justice against criminals, specifically against those behind the escalating violence in the country,” he said.

Television viewers tend to overlook the bruises on the faces of detainees, apparent signs of torture and coercion, or the scripted confessions they offer.

The tendency of police to stage arrests can backfire. The 2005 arrest of a Frenchwoman, Florence Cassez, has strained Mexico’s relations with France. A day after Cassez’s arrest, police staged a re-enactment and invited journalists from Televisa and TV Azteca to air it live. The journalists, who weren’t told that the arrest had taken place the day before, thought they were broadcasting the event.

That was only one of the irregularities that plagued the case of Cassez, who’s now serving a 60-year jail term for allegedly belonging to the Zodiacs kidnapping gang.

Even in cases where the innocent are freed after being snared in the criminal justice system, they pay a heavy price.

“They go back to their communities having been paraded around as members of a cartel or criminal gang,” said Steinberg, of Human Rights Watch. “They are punished by years of marginalization within their communities.”

Granada, who lost two years of his life to the police’s mistake over his identity, still faces battles. His efforts to obtain a document that declares him free of a criminal record — which is necessary to get a job _have become snarled in bureaucracy.

When he turns on the television and sees alleged criminals presented at police news conferences, it fills him with rage and irritation.

“I don’t believe it at all. I think it’s all made up,” he said.


On Florence Cassez’s Path to Freedom, Felipe Calderón

March 22, 2012

Fearlessfathers

I have been holding my breath for more than a  week, since the President of the Mexican Supreme Court Arturo Zaldívar put on the Court agenda Florence Cassez’s unconditional and immediate liberation. I thought this time,Florence would be whiffing Spring time outside of jail for the first time in six years. The Court decision came yesterday, March 21 and it is disappointing, for Florence Cassez and for the Mexican justice system: although four judges acknowledged serious violations of Florence’ human rights had flawed due process, only two voted for her immediate liberation. A majority of three was needed.

I am no Mexican constitutional lawyer, but I have to confess that the positions of those judges who did not see yesterday the legal imperative to let Florence go are quite puzzling: Pardo Rebollado for instance, stated that it was not “the appropriate legal moment” for the Supreme Court to take on the task to liberate Florence (when will it be if not now, let alone yesterday?); For Ramón Cossío, violations to due process in Cassez’s case were not serious enough to warrant her liberation; he wants another trial.  As if the Mexican justice system had not shown enough it was prone to commit type I errors – put innocents in jail and for that matter, Florence- not to give it another chance to do so…

It is clear one would not be that tempted to second guess the Mexican Supreme Court decision had President Calderón refrained from telling it how he wanted it to rule. Before the Supreme Court rendered its decision, Felipe Calderón urged it to take into account the victims of kidnappings. In so doing, Calderón encroached on the prerogatives of the judiciary. This is actually quite consistent with his administration practices, which blur the borders between justice and police actions:  Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety since 2006, cooks proofs, produces victims and culprits and stages them for TV.

President Calderón posturing as the knight of victims of kidnapping has something tragically ironical to it.  According to Damien Cave in a March 17 New York Times article, reported abductions in Mexico are up 300% since 2005.  There is even a new trend going on: the kidnapping of entire families.   Keeping Florence Cassez in jail at any price is about all that Calderón has yet left to mislead the Mexican people on the calamitous outcome of his administration in the area of crime prevention, kidnappings included.

One day will come, soon I hope, when Mexicans will not buy anymore the Calderón-Wallace propaganda that sells Florence’s liberation as a favor to a foreigner,  but will realize that liberating an innocent – who happened to be a foreigner- is a favor to the Mexican justice system and to Mexicans. Meanwhile, hold on Florence.  Abrazos.

Mexico rights group seeks Florence Cassez release

Florence Cassez, the truth kidnapped (translation from Nexos : La Verdad Secuestrada)

Click here to access the translation of the breathtaking paper on Florence Cassez`s case by Nexos

Mexico judge proposes Florence Cassez release

BBC NEWS

March, 7th 2012 

Florence Cassez behind bars, file picture

A Mexican Supreme Court judge has said that Frenchwoman Florence Cassez, who is serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, should be released.

Judge Arturo Zaldivar argued that Ms Cassez, 37, had been denied her consular rights and the right to be presumed innocent.

His proposal for her “immediate and absolute” release will now be considered by a panel of five judges.

The case has caused diplomatic friction between Mexico and France.

Florence Cassez was arrested in 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City where three kidnapping victims had been held for two months.

Judge Zaldivar’s recommendation that she be freed is based on how she was treated after her arrest.

In a motion presented to the Supreme Court, he says police violated her rights by failing to notify the French consulate and failing to present her to investigative officials.

TV montageHe also notes that – the day after she was detained – police staged a re-enactment of her arrest and the rescue of the kidnap victims for the benefit of the media.

The footage was shown on Mexican television as if it were a genuine raid.

The judge argued that this montage created the impression that she was guilty and may have influenced the testimony against her from the police and kidnap victims.

It is not certain when the Supreme Court will hear her case, but her lawyer told the French AFP news agency/

Ms Cassez has always denied any knowledge or involvement in the kidnappings.

She maintains that her only connection with the case was that she was the girlfriend of one of the kidnappers.

In France, she is widely considered the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been among those questioning her conviction and calling for her to be returned home.

In 2010 a year of Mexican cultural events in France was cancelled after Mr Sarkozy suggested it be used to highlight her case.

The News Station – 16 wnep

MEXICAN JUDGE SEEKS TO FREE JAILED FRENCH WOMAN
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Mexican Supreme Court judge has proposed freeing a French woman serving a 60-year prison sentence for kidnapping, though his motion needs the backing of at least two others on a five-member panel determining her fate.Judge Arturo Zaldivar said in his motion that Florence Cassez, 37, was denied her rights, not given a fair trial, and that witness statements used to convict her of kidnapping and other crimes in 2008 were unreliable.

The case has caused tension between France and Mexico.

Zaldivar’s motion centers on a filmed recreation showing police freeing kidnapping victims and arresting Cassez and others who were portrayed as members of a gang called the Zodiacs. The video was shot after her arrest in Mexico City in late 2005 and aired on television as a real raid.

Federal police said the Zodiacs were led by Cassez’s Mexican boyfriend at the time and that she was a member of the gang.

In his motion, Zaldivar also noted that Cassez was not offered consular assistance or put in front of a prosecutor immediately after the arrest.

“Consequently, the motion establishes there was a violation of the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence of Cassez,” the Supreme Court said in a statement. “A supposed recreation of things that never took place without doubt had an impact on public opinion and on all those linked to the trial.”

The case sparked a furor in France, where many see Cassez as a victim of injustice.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking a second term in an April 22 election, has promised Cassez’s parents that

he will seek justice in the case and is asking Mexico to transfer her to a French prison. That request has been denied.

The five Mexican Supreme Court judges will vote on the motion within two weeks, an official at the court said. A vote of three judges will be enough to free Cassez.

“This motion gives us a ray of hope,” Cassez’s defense lawyer, Agustin Acosta, told Reuters. “The case is very clear. I am sure the court will free her.”

Some Mexican anti-crime activists have opposed her release, arguing that a message must be sent to kidnappers and France should not meddle with Mexico’s justice system.

Mexico has seen kidnappings for ransom, in which abductors often torture and mutilate victims, spiral out of control in recent years.

In 2011, Mexico canceled a year-long series of films and performances in France after Sarkozy said the events would be dedicated to Cassez.

Florence Cassez:The Freedom of Innocence in Jail

January 13, 2012

Published in http://fearlessfathers.wordpress.com/

On Sunday January 8, 2012, I met Florence Cassez, the French women who has been sentenced to serve sixty years in prison by the Mexican justice for the crimes of  kidnapping and organized crime she did not commit.  As I was carrying the  grilled chicken Florence had asked me to bring for lunch, heading toward the Centro Feminil de Readaptacion Social (South of Mexico City) where she is incarcerated, I was still struggling with the thought that had started to bug me since Florence had accepted my request to visit her, three days before: I am no journalist, no lawyer, and therefore I could not be of much help to her.

I know I will not sleep much until she is freed, but I also know now she does not need my help that much. The first thing I found out last Sunday is that she has been helping herself amazingly well given what she has gone through. Before meeting her, I had in mind the image of Florence in shock during the AFI’s remake of her arrestation for the Mexican TV, on December 9 2005. The Florence Cassez I see after passing security, as I step into the large room where a crowd of inmates are meeting and eating with their visitors, has nothing to do with that.  She is a rather tall women with an intense and reflective gaze. She graciously introduces me to her two other visitors, among whom David Bertet, who manages the Canadian Committee in Support of Florence. I quickly discover she has guts. Indeed, as I am telling her I did not understand why the Mexican government  (Mexico is a signat0ry of the 1983 Strasbourg convention on the transfer of sentenced persons) has been dragging its feet to repatriate Florence to France while invoking the incompatibility of the French thirty-year maximum jail sentence with Florence’s, she brushes away this option. Repatriation? No Sir. She did not want that. Doing time in France meant acknowledging she was guilty. She is innocent. Florence wants the Cassez’s case to be cleared in Mexico. She is fully aware that if it were to happen, it would have wide implications for the working of the Mexican justice system, and for the lot of those Mexican whose rights are violated and who, like her, rot in jail thanks to flawed or made-up accusations of kidnapping.

As the discussion unfolds around lunch, I cannot but notice with immense pleasure that it is interrupted many times. Florence is not at all ostracized as I was fearing. On the contrary, she is a popular figure here. Folks want to chat with her. She keeps getting up, keeps leaving the table to check hands or hug people. David Bertet told me aside that her humility, her acceptance of the rules of the jail, has earned her the respect of the inmates and that of the prison’s authorities. According to Florence, it has not always been like that; President Sarkozy’s intervention with the Senate and the Mexican government was key to the inmates’change of mind about her. As they saw the French President himself pulling up his sleeves for Florence, people started to question the way most of the Mexican media had depicted her, as the sequestradora, the Francesa diabolica. I gladly admit I was off the mark in an earliercriticism of Sarkozy’s intervention on this blog. Yet I think that Florence is perhaps too modest. Her audacious resilience in claiming her innocence must have something to do with people’s empathy for her.