In a surprise development, 15 more of The Innocent of Acteal group of prisoners were released yesterday from prison in Mexico. The news was totally unexpected by the prisoners and their lawyers.
The 15 men were released on parole (called pre-liberation in Mexico). “Pre-liberation” means that the prisoners were of good conduct in prison; they have served over half of their sentences; and they have given indication that they will keep themselves out of trouble in the future. If a prisoner violates the terms of his parole, he will be returned to prison to finish his sentence. Release on parole does not reflect on their guilt or innocence of the men.
One of the newly-released men is Victorio Arias Perez (pictured) who had served as one of the spiritual leaders of the men in prison. Victorio was an elder in a local Presbyterian church at the time of his arrest back in 1998.
The newly-released men have already met the Chiapas Secretary of State to sign an agreement pledging not to return to their homes, in exchange for government grants of five hectares of land and a house. They will be housed temporarily in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez. The prisoners who were released last year continue to live in Tuxtla while waiting to be allocated suitable lands by the state government in which to resettle. The state government of Chiapas is not permitting them to return to their homes after violent threats were made in August 2009 against the first batch of released prisoners.
The remaining 35 Acteal prisoners have been given no indication if they also will be released on parole. Lawyers for the men continue to work on their case and remain hopeful that their innocence will be recognised, leading to their release in the coming months.
David Turner, Director of Church in Chains, which has long campaigned for The Innocent of Acteal, said: “We rejoice at this news that 15 more innocent men have been freed though we would have wished for their innocence to be recognised. I am particularly happy to learn that Victorio Arias Perez is among the released as I remember speaking with him when I visited the prisoners back in 2003. We will continue to pray and work until all the innocent men have been freed”.