A judge in western Mexico on Thursday ruled there was insufficient evidence and dismissed all charges against a Mexican environmentalist whose dubious imprisonment for murder sparked international outcry.
ACAPULCO, Mexico A judge in western Mexico on Thursday ruled there was insufficient evidence and dismissed all charges against a Mexican environmentalist whose dubious imprisonment for murder sparked international outcry.
In the resort city of Zihuatanejo, Judge Ricardo Salinas freed Felipe Arreaga, who was arrested last year on what his supporters say was falsified evidence linking him to the killing of a rancher's son, Abel Bautista, on May 30, 1998.
The decision was met with cheers from Celsa Valdovinos, Arreaga's wife and the head of his defense team, as well as about 20 of his friends and family members, who had gathered in the court room.
Eduardo Murueta, attorney general for Guerrero state, said Arreaga left the Zihuatanejo prison where he had been held around 5 p.m.
"I'm not resentful, I don't have any enemies," he told reporters. "My fight is for the forests and so that there's never a lack of water."
A member of the Organization of Peasant Ecologists, Arreaga was a leading anti-logging activist in Guerrero, which includes Zihuatanejo and Acapulco, 180 miles (290 kilometers) south of Mexico City.
The evidence in his case was examined anew at the urging of new Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca who took office April 1.
Last month, the U.S. group the Sierra Club awarded Arreaga, his wife and Albertano Penalosa, who was injured in a recent ambush that killed two of his sons, for risking their lives and liberty to battle rampant logging in the mountains of Guerrero.
Environmentalists around the globe said Arreaga's arrest was little more than a smear campaign against anti-logging efforts.
In a statement, the Washington Office on Latin America applauded the ruling, but called it "only a first step toward resoling a situation in which grave human rights violations are being committed against those defending the environment in Guerrero."
It called on Torreblanca to ensure Salinas' ruling is not appealed, guarantee the continuing safety of Arreaga and his family and direct authorities to exonerate 14 other members of the Organization of Peasant Ecologists, who are facing arrest warrants in the same slaying.
One of those linked to the killing died two years before it even occurred, defense attorneys have said.
Arreaga's arrest came about three years after President Vicente Fox ordered the release of two of his environmentalist colleagues, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, whose arrest on drug charges had been denounced by international human rights agencies.
The Peasant Ecologists angered local logging interests by blocking roads to trucks and campaigning against timber-cutting that has denuded mountainsides and destroyed watersheds in much of the rugged, impoverished region northwest of Acapulco.
Like Cabrera and Montiel, Arreaga had been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Source: Associated Press