A group of vigilantes from the small southern Mexican town of Ayutla announced on Thursday that they will hold a trial for 53 prisoners which they are holding, for crimes including kidnapping and extortion.
The 50 men and 3 women who are to be tried have been held at improvised jails in the town since local residents took up arms to defend their community against rampant organised crime. The vigilantes set up armed patrols and roadblocks in Ayutla around one month ago, claiming that government authorities had failed to protect the safety of the people.
The government of Guerrero State, where Ayutla is located, have so far tolerated the vigilantes, without recognizing their legitimacy. Since 1995 residents of around 80 villages in Guerrero state have created legally recognized community police forces, run by armed locals with their own jails and courts able to hand down punishments such as forced community service for the town. The ‘self-defense squads’ of Ayutla, however, are not part of that framework.
Two weeks ago a team of human rights officials from Guerrero State attempted to visit the detainees, but were turned away by the locals.
On Thursday the detainees were marched into the town square of El Meson, between columns of masked vigilantes. They appeared to be well-fed and unharmed. The leader of the vigilante movement Bruno Placido announced that the detainees, who he described as “people under investigation”, would be put on trial by an assembly of villagers. He did not say what procedures the court would follow or what kin of representation or defense would be allowed to the prisoners. “All that will be decided by the assembly,” he said.
The trials are expected to begin some time next week.
Guerrero State Attorney General Martha Garzon Bernal, speaking to local press on Thursday, said that the vigilantes had no legal right to hold prisoners and that kidnapping charges could be filed against them.