New York, NY, November 16, 2001—Representatives from PEN centers in North America and Europe called on President Vicente Fox to comply with the two-day deadline the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has issued for the release of José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez. The army officer has served eight years of a twenty-eight year prison sentence on spurious charges of embezzlement and illegal profiteering brought after he had published writings advocating reform of Mexico’s military.

The call comes as PEN prepares once again to challenge the Mexican government for its failure to abide by a 1996 IACHR ruling recommending the general’s release at the international writers’ organization’s annual meeting, which takes place in London from November 27 through 30, 2001. PEN will also be reviewing Mexico’s poor record of investigating and prosecuting those responsible for violence against journalists and human rights advocates in that country. Those concerns were dramatically underscored by the October 19, 2001 murder of internationally known human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, whose caseload included abuses linked to the military and who had received numerous death threats and survived previous attempts on her life.

Those threats and attacks led the IACHR to recommend round-the-clock protection for Ms. Ochoa—measures that were adopted by the Mexican government in November 1999 but suspended in July this year—and her murder clearly has heightened the sense of urgency at the Commission regarding other Mexican cases. Principle among these is the imprisonment of General Gallardo. Following a closed-door session with Mexican officials in Washington this week, IACHR President Claudio Grossman announced that the Commission had given the Mexican government two days to comply with instructions that the general be released immediately and compensated for his imprisonment, and that those responsible for the campaign of harassment against him be brought to justice. “The murder of Digna Ochoa shocked the world, underscoring in the most horrible way what we at PEN and at other human rights organizations have long been warning,” Americas Director Dixe Wills said today at the London headquarters of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. “The institutional failure to confront human rights violators continues to create an atmosphere where those who do expose unpleasant truths become targets themselves for violent abuses. As the ultimatum from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to release General Gallardo makes clear, the responsibility to end this ongoing abuse rests entirely in the hands of the Fox administration. Enacting that responsibility will send a strong message that Mexico intends to confront the issue of impunity head-on and at the highest levels.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org