Mexico's Supreme Court ordered freedom for 20 men convicted in the 1997 massacre of 45 Indian villagers in southern Chiapas state and new trials for six more, ruling on thursday that prosecutors used illegally obtained evidence.
The bloodshed in the village of Acteal was the worst single
instance of violence during the conflict in Chiapas, which began when the Zapatista rebels staged a brief armed uprising in early 1994 to demand more rights for Indians.
Paramilitaries with alleged ties to government figures attacked a prayer meeting of Roman Catholic activists who
sympathized with the rebels. Over several hours on Dec. 22, 1997, the assailants killed 45 people, including children as
young as 2 months old.
More than three dozen people, most of them also Indians from another town, have been convicted in the case. The
Supreme Court ruled that 20 of them must be let go and will not face retrial, while six will remain in prison but get new
"During the investigation, their constitutional rights were violated," the court said in a statement. "The majority of cases... were based on the use of illegally obtained evidence."
The court cited irregularities such as the fact that suspects, largely speakers of the Tzotzil Indian language, were not provided with translators.