By Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar reporting from the Netherlands
MEXICO CITY/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- Mexican authorities have agreed to release some of 90 jailed men, including evangelical Christians, who were charged with involvement in killing 45 Tzotzil Indians in southeast Mexico in 1997, sources close to the negotiations said Monday, July 10.
Open Doors, a Netherlands-based Christian rights group which negotiated with a special commission reviewing the case, said nine prisoners would be released "for good behavior" while 10 others saw a reduction of their 25-year prison sentence for the massacre in the village of Acteal in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
The 19 men will be placed in the "less strict prison" of San Christybal, which is closer to their hometowns, "to enable more private visits," Open Doors said. Later this month an appeals court will decide the fate of 39 Christian prisoners, the group added.
At least half of the men jailed for the massacre are "evangelical Christians" and several of them "found Christ in prison," Open Doors explained. Several human rights groups questioned the evidence against the men, mainly native Indians, who have been in prison since 1997 for what Open Doors called "political reasons."
PREGNANT WOMEN KILLED
Investigators said it became clear that the 45 Tzotzil Indians, including pregnant women and children, were shot and killed by government-backed paramilitary forces who stormed a church where they were praying.
Human rights group Amnesty International concluded there was "compelling evidence" that "the authorities facilitated the arming of paramilitaries" to carry out the massacre on December 22, 1997.
The massacre came amid growing tensions in Chiapas where groups, including the Zapatistas rebels, were fighting to end what they saw as centuries of discrimination of Tzotzil Indians and other groups considered excluded from mainstream Mexican politics.
Mexico's 13 million Indians are among the poorest people in the country, with high rates of illiteracy and malnutrition. That, and skewed land distribution in Chiapas, were major factors leading to a 1994 revolt when Zapistas briefly overran villages and tows in the region, analysts say.
While Open Doors is pleased that at least some men charged with the 1997-massacre will be released, it expressed regret that they were not declared innocent. "It is sad that for political reasons they will not be rehabilitated," said Open Doors official Klaas Muurling who was involved in the case. "We will have to accept their release on grounds of good behavior," he added in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
However Muurling stressed he "is happy there is now movement in the case," as "it seemed the Mexican authorities didn’t mind that these Indian people would spend the rest of their lives in prison."
It remained unclear Monday, July 10, what impact the outcome of last week’s Mexican elections would have on the situation of the men.
Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute said the conservative Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party narrowly won the presidential ballot with 35.88 percent of the vote.
His main rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, received 35.31 percent, officials said. It was the closest presidential contest in Mexican history. The losing candidate, however, has refused to accept the final result and wants a recount of every vote cast in the election. (With reports from Mexico and BosNewsLife Research).
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