By Alberto Cabezas.


The trial of the filmmakers behind the highly successful documentary "Presunto culpable," which tells the story of how Antonio "Toño" Zuñiga was falsely accused of murder, has reopened the debate in Mexico over whether a decision against those behind the film might have a "gag effect" on individuals who want to draw attention to social problems via documentaries.

"This is a very paradoxical situation. 'Presunto culpable' is perhaps one of the most important muckraking works on the structural problems for criminal procedure in Mexico," Ibero-American University law professor Miguel Rabago told Efe.

The 2011 documentary - directed by Roberto Hernandez and produced by Layda Negrete - shows how Zuñiga was charged with murder on the basis of faulty evidence and a false statement by a witness, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Zuñiga, who served two years in prison, was released after attorneys took up his case and filed an appeal, documenting acts of corruption in the criminal justice system.

Victor Daniel Reyes Bravo, the witness who gave the false testimony, sued Hernandez and Negrete, both attorneys, for using his image in the film.

Reyes Bravo, who was a minor at the time he appeared in the documentary, claims he never gave the filmmakers permission to include him in the work.

Reyes Bravo is a cousin of the victim in the original case and falsely accused Zuñiga of committing the murder.

Reyes Bravo admits in the film that he never saw the person who shot his cousin and did not know that Zuñiga tested negative for gunpowder residue.

The film's directors, producers and distributors have been sued for a total of about 3 billion pesos ($232 million) by several parties, including Reyes Bravo.

"We see these trials as a form of judicial harassment over a journalistic work that has to do precisely with the judicial branch in the Federal District and is symptomatic exactly because it is in that jurisdiction that we are having all the problems," Negrete said.

Judge Maria del Rosario Mancera Perez, who is handling the case, is not impartial because she has a negative opinion of the film and the damage it has done to Mexico's justice system, Negrete said.

"Our documentary was not intended to hurt a person, it was intended to question a system to change it. We regret that they feel offended," Negrete said.

The judge refused last week to allow members of the media into a hearing in the case. EFE