MEXICO CITY (AP) — An indigenous teacher who human rights groups say was unjustly imprisoned for 13 years received a promised pardon Thursday from President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Alberto Patishtan Gomez was the first person pardoned by Pena Nieto under a recent change in Mexico's penal code that broadened a president's grounds for granting pardons.
The president had announced late Tuesday that he would free Patishtan, and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Thursday that Pena Nieto ordered the teacher be released from prison immediately.
"We identified evidence of consistent human rights violations, particularly during the legal process," Osorio Chong said.
Patishtan was detained in June 2000 and charged with participating in the ambush and killing of seven police officers in the southern state of Chiapas, home to the Zapatista rebel uprising.
The newly approved law published Wednesday allows the president to pardon prisoners "when there are consistent indications of grave human rights violations" against them. The code already allowed some other kinds of limited presidential pardons.
Shortly after being released, Patishtan maintained his innocence.
"They wanted to finish me, but I'm innocent before God and in my own eyes," he said at a news conference.
Now 43, Patishtan was being held at the National Institute of Neurology, where he was transferred from prison to undergo treatment for a brain tumor. He was serving a 60-year sentence for charges associated with the ambush, including murder.
He said he was simply participating in protests in a state marked by the emergence of the Zapatista rebel movement. He said that it was the mayor of a Chiapas town who incriminated him unfairly and that he did not have the resources to defend himself against the charges.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have said the case against Patishtan was plagued with irregularities.
Mexican courts refused to overturn the conviction and sentence, saying defense lawyers didn't provide sufficient evidence. Mexico's Supreme Court refused to hear the case.