MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities on Friday pledged major changes in the way criminal suspects are treated, citing an urgent need to improve a judiciary that’s suffering from rock-bottom conviction rates and wounded by public anger at the lack of rule of law.
Starting immediately, Mexico’s Federal Police and military personnel will read a series of legal rights to suspects - including rights to know the charges against them, obtain free legal counsel and remain silent.
The announcement by Undersecretary Eduardo Sanchez of the Interior Secretariat was another sign that President Enrique Pena Nieto is racing to distance himself from practices under the previous government, which left power Dec. 1.
Earlier this week, Sanchez told the quasi-official Notimex news agency that police no longer would put alleged gangsters on display in “perp walks” before banks of television cameras.
Nor would authorities post “most wanted” lists, allow news media to air raids in action or refer to gangsters by aliases, acts that critics said glorified the underworld.
“It is not acceptable, nor will it ever be under this government, that authorities conduct themselves in arbitrary ways that hurt society (or) lead to impunity and injustice,” Sanchez told a news conference.
Faith in Mexico’s justice system hit a low point this week. The Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 vote Wednesday to release a Frenchwoman accused of belonging to a kidnapping gang from her 60-year jail term.
As relatives of kidnapping victims wept along the roadside outside the prison, the woman, Florence Cassez, was whisked to the international airport to board a flight to France, where she was greeted as a returning survivor of a corrupt justice system.
French President Francois Hollande welcomed Cassez and her family Friday evening at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Her release sparked anger and indignation in Mexico, where leftist lawmakers demanded that Genaro Garcia Luna, who was the head of public security under former President Felipe Calderon, be brought to a hearing on his conduct in the case.
Cassez was freed partly because Garcia Luna had staged her “capture” in 2005 for television reporters a day after her arrest, pretending it was a real commando raid.