Last year in the relatively peaceful Mexican state of Puebla, three young men were violently arrested and their homes were raided for allegedly organizing a protest through Facebook.
Had their actions taken place today, state police officials would have been within their rights to kill them, if they were seen as “violent.”
Authorities in Puebla, a state east of Mexico City, now have the right to use lethal force during any activities classified as “violent” or a “threat to public safety” — such as organizing an anti-government march.
The Law for the Protection of Human Rights and Police Force Regulation, known by protesters as the “Ley Bala” — Bullet Law — passed state congress with 32 votes on Monday, with only five opposing votes. The law only applies in the state of Puebla.
The new legislation has been described by human rights non-governmental organizations in the state as “opening the floodgates for indiscriminate police abuse.”
“Before they would put you in prison for differing political views,” Puebla resident Amanda Campos Morales told VICE News. “Now they’ll simply kill you if they don’t like what you’re saying. It’s much easier for them.”
If protesters continue to resist police, authorities can use firearms as a last resort.
“This legislation is a clear threat to the public right to organize protests as well as freedom of expression,” said Mario Hernandez Reyes, the coordinator of Mexico’s Labor Party.
While many in the state agree that equipping police with powers equivalent to those used by the drug cartels can help with security, residents are worried that the threat of extreme force will strike fear into local communities.
“It’s one thing to tackle crime and its perpetrators,” Juliana Freogoso, a student in the state capital, told VICE News “but that isn’t a big problem here. They want it to keep the public in check through fear.”
While Mexico’s drug war results in one death every half hour according to government statistics, the state of Puebla is relatively peaceful in comparison with other regions of the country.
Earlier this year, the local government’s Public Security Secretary Ardelio Vargas Fosado stated “nothing happens here” during a live discussion with the justice attorney general, who was equally unfulfilled by the state’s crime stats.
Mexican national newspaper Reforma goes as far to report that the state is a “low-season getaway for cartel bosses,” given that corrupted local authorities tend to leave them alone for a fee.
According to the paper, “cartel bosses come to Puebla to retire and lie low,” although in the past two years federal forces have arrested 12 of the 15 currently thought to be living there.
Protesters have taken to Twitter with the #LeyBala hashtag, to voice their concerns about what they perceive as the first step toward their government´s removal of their basic human rights — “a losing battle” according to one user from Guerrero state.
Some politicians have expressed their concerns over the precedence the law sets.
“The explicit authorization of lethal force in an environment of constant corruption is a tragedy,” said Hernandez Reyes, whose party holds few seats in the state where President Peña Nieto’s party— Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) — holds a majority.
“With one law the government has erased centuries of debate, struggle and the battle of human rights,” Hernandez said.