MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Wednesday that he would pardon an indigenous teacher who has spent 13 years in prison after being convicted of participating in the murder of seven police officers.
The case of Alberto Patishtan has been a cause celebre for many human rights activists who maintained that he did not receive a fair hearing in the courts and was denied due process. He was serving a 60-year sentence.
Peña Nieto's order is made possible by a law taking effect Thursday that expands presidential pardon powers. Patishtan is the first person to benefit.
The new law allows a pardon when the rights of the jailed person were violated.
"It has been 13 years of constant struggles, of living one obstacle after another, but at last we have achieved the objective of our fight," Patishtan's daughter Gabriela told the Mexican news agency Notimex in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas state.
Patishtan, 43, is a Tzotzil Indian from Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state and one with a history of leftist rebel activity and repression of the region's indigenous communities by military forces. He was a teacher before his arrest.
In 2000, during a time of heightened tension, seven police officers were killed in an ambush in the Chiapas mountains. A survivor, the son of a mayor with whom Patishtan had sparred over political issues, cited him as one of the attackers. Defenders of Patishtan have long maintained he had an airtight alibi and that authorities fabricated evidence against him.
Human rights organizations applauded the decision to release Patishtan and urged that similar cases be reopened. "We cannot put aside our concern over the enormous flaws in the Mexican judicial system," said an umbrella network of Mexican groups.