By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar in the Netherlands with additional reporting from Mexico
MEXICO CITY/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- There was concern Wednesday, February 21, about the plight of dozens of evangelical prisoners in Mexico's southeastern state of Chiapas who rights watchers say have been wrongly convicted of involvement in the massacre of 45 Tzotzil Indians nearly a decade ago.
Netherlands-based Open Doors, a group supporting Christians persecuted for their faith, said 76 men, half of them evangelical believers, were victims of "random arrests" following the mass killings of Indians on December 22, 1997, in the village of Acteal by paramilitary forces.
"Most of these men have been spending eight years behind bars...Open Doors is convinced that most of these prisoners are innocent," the group told BosNewsLife.
Open Doors, which has been paying the legal costs of the defendants, said lawyers are fighting for a "presidential pardon" for their clients after a federal court lowered an initial ruling from 36 to 25 years imprisonment.
"Lawyers have rested their defense case as they were threatened by prosecutors, but are are working on a procedure to obtain a presidential pardon."
Open Doors said the case "could turn nasty again" as the state of Chiapas reportedly wants to reopen the trial. The defense team believes that the authorities of Chiapas are trying to prevent a search for the real killers of the Tzotzil Indians, the group explained. In addition a further 27 men may be detained for their alleged involvement in what became known as the 'Acteal Massacre,' Open Doors said
The "tragic massacre" of Acteal was the result of what Open Doors investigators described as an "ideological and political conflict" between rebels of the anti-government Zapatista Army of National Liberation and farmers supporting the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (IRP).
Following the murder of yet another IRP member, an armed conflict broke out between the two groups near a Catholic monastery where 300 people were gathering to receive Red Cross clothing. In the violence 45 Trotzil Indians were killed, including 37 women and children.
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