MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of three people serving prison terms for a 1997 massacre in which both the accused and the 45 victims were indigenous people.
The justices voted unanimously to overturn the convictions of Lorenzo Ruiz Vazquez, Jose Guzman Ruiz and Alfredo Agustin Hernandez Ruiz, citing irregularities in the original trial.
The court did not address the question of the guilt or innocence of the defendants, Justice Jose Ramon Cossio said, stressing that the decision to three men was based on violations of their rights to due process.
More than 40 of those convicted and sentenced for the slaughter of 45 people in the southern state of Chiapas have been freed due to problems with the original trial.
Only two people remain behind bars in connection with the Acteal massacre, according to human rights organizations following the case.
On Dec. 22, 1997, a group of men toting assault rifles killed 45 unarmed Tzotzil Indians, including 15 children, as they were praying inside a church in Acteal, Chiapas.
The slaughter occurred during the period when the Mexican government was fighting the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN, guerrilla group.
Tzotzils from several communities had gathered in Acteal after fleeing violence between EZLN supporters and armed members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico at the time and reclaimed the presidency in 2012 after a gap of 12 years.
The massacre led to the resignations of federal Government Secretary Emilio Chuayfett and Chiapas Gov. Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, both of them PRI members.
The dozens of suspects arrested in the days after the massacre did not get their day in court until 2007.
The suspects were PRI supporters who had been at odds with the victims, a group of displaced Indians in a state divided since 1994 between backers and opponents of the EZLN.