Amnesty International has welcomed the release of a Mexican indigenous human rights activist who was imprisoned for over two years on a fabricated murder charge.
Raúl Hernández was acquitted by a judge in Guerrero State on Friday 27 August and immediately released.
“The release of Raúl Hernández is a very welcome step. The Mexican authorities must now investigate his unfounded prosecution and compensate him fully for his unfair imprisonment," said Rupert Knox of Amnesty International.
"The prolonged detention and prosecution of Raúl Hernández is part of a systematic campaign by the Mexican authorities against members of the Me'phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa, OPIM) for standing up in defence of their people’s human rights."
Speaking after his release to Alberto Herrera, Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico, Raúl Hernández said: "I want to thank Amnesty International and the people of many countries who worked for my freedom."
Amnesty International has been campaigning for Raúl Hernández’s release since November 2008 when he was adopted as a prisoner of conscience.
It believes that the case against him was a reprisal by local authorities for his legitimate activities promoting indigenous rights with the Me'phaa Indigenous People's Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa, OPIM).
On 17 April 2008, Raúl Hernández was one of five OPIM members wrongfully arrested and charged for the murder of Alejandro Feliciano Garcia on 1 January in the village of El Camalote, Guerrero State.
The other four; Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago were later released after a federal judicial review.
The federal review judge refused to release Raúl Hernández arguing that two witnesses had testified to his presence during the time of the murder.
The judge ignored other eyewitness testimonies saying that Raúl Hernández was not present.
The case was returned to the state courts where Raúl Hernández's defence lawyers’ secured further evidential hearings, one of which confirmed that the prosecution’s eyewitnesses had provided unreliable testimony.
"The case of Raúl Hernández illustrates the vulnerability of human rights activists in Mexico. Not only are they victims of unlawful detentions and imprisonment on unfounded charges, but they also face harassment, intimidation, threats and even killings," said Rupert Knox
The southern state of Guerrero is home to about 116,000 Me’ phaa Indigenous People. It has one of the highest levels of marginalisation and some of the lowest indicators of human development in Mexico, according to local human rights organization Tlachinollan Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña.
OPIM was founded in 2002 to defend and promote the rights of the Me’ phaa Indigenous People.
Amnesty International has documented a pattern of harassment and intimidation against members of Indigenous rights organizations in Guerrero state, such as the OPIM over a number of years.