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RIGHTS-MEXICO: Journalist Hit with Libel Charge after Exposing Paedophile Ring

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Dec 27 2005 (IPS) - Journalist and activist Lydia Cacho believes that the influence wielded by a powerful child prostitution and pornography ring is responsible for the death threats she has been receiving for months and her recent arrest on criminal libel charges.

“Who wouldn’t be afraid of these people? I’m afraid of them, and I have no doubt that the strings pulled by child pornographers are behind the trial I’m facing,” Cacho told IPS from the southeastern Mexican resort city of Cancún, her home base.

On Dec. 16, Cacho was arrested and charged with criminal libel. Earlier this year, she published a book, “Demons of Eden”, which contains testimony from minors in Cancún who were sexually abused by adults who also photographed and videotaped them engaging in sexual acts and sold these images over the Internet.

Over recent days, international organisations like Amnesty International, the World Organisation Against Torture, and the Inter-American Press Association, as well as numerous European parliamentarians and Mexican intellectuals and non-governmental groups have issued statements of solidarity and support for Cacho, who is also the co-founder of the Centro Integral de Apoyo a la Mujer (CIAM), a shelter for victims of domestic violence and rape.

Upon her arrest, Cacho was driven to the central Mexican city of Puebla – over 1,500 km from her home in Cancún – and held in custody for 30 hours under “insulting” conditions and deprived of her basic rights, she reported.

She was subsequently released, then taken back into custody and officially charged with criminal libel on Dec. 23, although she has been allowed to remain free on 7,000 dollar bail while awaiting trial.

The accusation of libel was made by Puebla-based textile magnate Kamel Nacif, a close personal friend of the governor of the state of Puebla, Mario Marín.

Nacif himself has declared that he asked Marín to help him “to teach Cacho a good lesson.”

Nacif is mentioned by minors and other sources interviewed for Cacho’s book as a friend and protector of hotel owner Jean Succar, who fled Mexico in 2003 after being exposed as the head of a child sex ring in Cancún.

Succar was arrested in the United States in February 2004 and is currently awaiting the conclusion of an extradition trial.

“In my book it’s the victims who speak, and that’s where Nacif’s name comes up. At first he denied his relationship with Succar, but now he admits to being his friend,” said Cacho.

The activist and journalist, who writes an op/ed column for a Cancún newspaper, reported receiving death threats and asked the government of Vicente Fox for police protection, which was granted earlier this year.

According to the evidence uncovered through investigations and used as grounds for his extradition request, Succar ran a prostitution ring that preyed on girls and boys between the ages of five and 18.

Testimony from witnesses revealed that he sought out his victims among the poor families who live in the shantytowns on the outskirts of Cancún, whom he lured in with promises of food, shelter and education.

Succar engaged in sexual acts with the minors, passed them on to other adults for the same purposes, and also photographed and videotaped these acts in order to sell the images to “clients” in the United States, according to the charges against him.

The accused ringleader has publicly stated that he had “powerful” friends in business and politics.

“It’s the power behind the child pornography that had me arrested and is putting me on trial for libel,” maintained Cacho.

Some 17,000 minors in Mexico are victims of the sex trade, reveals a study by researcher Elena Azaola, published in 2004. Azaola’s research included visits to the establishments where these children and teenagers are forced to engage in prostitution and interviews with some of those who have managed to escape.

In 1995, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office broke up a crime ring devoted to publishing and selling child pornography. A year later, a special investigative force was created, which has since uncovered at least one child pornography or prostitution network every year.

Non-governmental organisations estimate that around 100 Mexican children and adolescents are trapped into child prostitution rings every month.

And around the world, roughly one million girls and boys fall victim to these networks every year.

In 2002, the Fox administration carried out a major publicity campaign against the sexual abuse of minors, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The campaign briefly moved the issue to the top of the national agenda, but with the passage of time, it has gradually slipped out of the spotlight once again.

Cacho insists that the trial she is facing represents “a clear message to those of us who dare to speak out and expose the organised crime that is behind child pornography.”

But the activist and journalist is not alone in her struggle. Mexican writer Guadalupe Loaeza, for example, has stated that Cacho has the support of a great many individuals and organisations who will not permit an injustice to be carried out against her and against the thousands of minors in Mexico who are sexually abused.

Cacho, who is being provided with legal defence by the Grijalbo publishing company, which released her book, and the attorneys at the CIAM shelter, is now weighing the possibility of filing a complaint against the Mexican authorities involved in her arrest and upcoming trial before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, on the grounds that they are acting in a biased manner and have deprived her of her basic rights.

Nacif filed his complaint against Cacho in Puebla, where most of his business interests are based. However, the crimes in which he is implicated took place in Cancún, and the book that accused him of this involvement was published in Mexico City.

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