Mexican woman released after being jailed 12 years without a conviction

MEXICO CITY — A woman was freed last week after being imprisoned for 12 years and seven months without a conviction or sentencing, in a case that drew international attention and a call from a United Nations group for her release.

Verónica Razo Casales was arrested in 2011 on charges of kidnapping; her charges were withdrawn last week. After her release, she spoke about the recent events, as well as what took place hours after her initial arrest, when authorities sexually abused her and tortured her with electric shocks, according to official reports cited by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Verónica Razo Casales, right, with her brother Erick Razo Casales and their mother, Austreberta Casales.
Verónica Razo Casales, right, with her brother Erick Razo Casales and their mother, Austreberta Casales.Federal Institute of Public Defender Services

“I’m still in shock. I longed for this, but it’s like a very radical change and I still don’t believe it,” Razo Casales said in a telephone interview with Noticias Telemundo following her Jan. 4 release. “I know that adjusting is going to cost me a little bit more.”

“I was tortured, sexually abused and, when I got to prison, I couldn’t see my family because they canceled visits for the first three months. That’s why I sank into a very, very strong depression,” she said, emphasizing that she was 32 years old when she was arrested and is now 45.

Like Razo Casales, 4 out of every 10 Mexicans who are in prison have not been prosecuted, nor have they received a sentence for any crime, according to official statistics. The Mexican justice system has a large backlog of cases, contributing to the massive rate of unpunished crimes (more than 98% ) as people whose guilt has not been proven end up incarcerated.

“It took a long time to release her. I spoke with prosecutors, judges, lawyers and nothing ever happened. I always said that she was innocent, that they had to get her out of jail, but no one listened to me,” her mother, Austreberta Casales, said.

Ruth Zenteno, research director of the Strategic Litigation Unit at Mexico’s Federal Institute for Public Defense said that the case “is evidence of the most serious human rights violations that occur in unjust criminal processes. Preventive detention is like an anticipated sentence but in this case, there’s also arbitrary detention, torture and violation of the rules due process.”

A good part of the country’s judicial problems derives from its use of preventive detention, which was expanded in 2019 during the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

It’s a system of automatic imprisonment, without the possibility of bail, for people accused of crimes such as home robbery, fuel theft, kidnapping or drug trafficking. It’s been described as considering someone guilty until proven innocent — when in theory the law should consider the opposite.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has urged changes to the use of preventive detention in Mexico and U.N. groups have deemed the practice “incompatible” with human rights, according to the Washington Office on Latin America.

survey by the Mexican Official Institute of Statistics (INEGI) found that in 2021, imprisoned people had spent an average of 3.3 years in prison without a conviction or without a trial. Some had spent up to 17 years.

‘My life was torn apart’

Razo Casales and her brother Erick Razo Casales were arrested June 8, 2011, by officers of the Federal Police, an agency that no longer exists in Mexico City. He was arrested at a gas station; she was intercepted near her house by seven men dressed in civilian clothes with long weapons, who pointed them at her, handcuffed her and violently put her into a car without official license plates, according to official reports.

“One of the most serious irregularities in this case was that we were able to corroborate that in the police and the prosecutor’s office, some tolerated and others carried out acts of torture. It is difficult, it is a still very lacerating reality for our country to know that  law enforcement officers, or those who are in charge of complying with it, commit crimes. That is, they kidnap people or disappear people to torture them and produce evidence,” said José Luis Espejel, an attorney at the Office of the Federal Defender.

According to official information, on the way to the police station, the agents stopped at an unknown location where they stripped and beat Razo Casales. In addition, they tried to suffocate her, gave her electric shocks and sexually abused her, according to the complaint.

A chilling aspect of this torture case is that, once confined in the police station, the siblings were held in nearby spaces so they could hear how they were tortured,  while they were threatened, being told that they were going to be killed if they did not incriminate each other.

“My life was torn apart, and my dreams were destroyed. They buried me alive,” Razo Casales said, describing her imprisonment. “The worst thing is that there are many in the same situation as me … They don’t have a court, they don’t know the judge. It’s very hard because they are women, they are sisters, they are mothers and you are supposed to be the pillar of a family. How many families are they destroying because of all this?”

In 2021, the siblings’ case was analyzed by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which determined that their detention was arbitrary and in violation of international law norms, and called for their release. Erick Razo Casales was released in May 2022 after spending 11 years in prison.

In the case of Razo Casales, authorities said last week that since there was no incriminating evidence that she had been responsible for kidnapping, she should be acquitted and her immediate release ordered.

Zenteno said that it was significant that the court admitted there were flaws in the incriminating evidence, “which are a consequence of improper and arbitrary action by the police.”

According to a recent report, the Federal Institute for Public Defense registered 7,779 possible cases of torture or mistreatment between 2020 and 2021. 

“The institutions have to take charge of repairing the damage because no one can give me back time,” Razo Casales said. “I don’t think there would be enough money to repair what they have done to me.”

An earlier version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.


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