Mexico: imprisoned Chiapas schoolteacher released

Alberto Patishtán Gómez, a schoolteacher from the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, was freed from imprisonment on Oct. 31 after receiving a pardon that day from President Enrique Peña Nieto. Patishtán had been serving a 60-year sentence since 2000 for his alleged involvement in the killing of seven police agents in Chiapas’ El Bosque municipality in June of that year. He has consistently maintained his innocence. Human rights activists in Mexico and around the world demonstrated and petitioned for his release, charging that the teacher was being persecuted as an indigenous Tzotzil activist and a supporter of the leftist Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).

Patishtán’s pardon was the first granted under a change to the penal code allowing presidential pardons “when there are consistent indications of grave human rights violations.” President Peña Nieto, from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), announced his plan for the pardon on Oct. 29, one day before the new regulations were to take effect. A presidential pardon was the only option for freeing Patishtán after a federal court in Chiapas turned down his appeal on Sept. 12. Although he accepted the pardon, Patishtán had refused to ask for it, saying the government should ask him to be forgiven for its treatment of him.

Patishtán received the pardon while in the National Institute of Neurology in Mexico City; he had been transferred there from prison to undergo radiation treatment for a brain tumor discovered last year. After his release, two of his children and one grandchild accompanied Patishtán to a press conference at the offices of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Services and Consultancy for Peace (SERAPAZ). “From the first day I arrived at the prison, I felt free,” he told supporters and journalists. “Some people ask me: what sustains you so that you never stop laughing, and I tell them: it’s because I have a clear conscience.” (Washington Post, Oct. 31, from AP; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 3.