On June 12, 2000, eight police officers and their driver were ambushed in Simojovel, Chiapas. Seven of the officers were killed, and the officer and driver who survived were seriously wounded. The state government prosecutor quickly developed a hypothesis that the killers could have been Zapatistas.
Despite overwhelming evidence that basic education teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez was not involved, the Army and federal police detained him. Patishtán had called for the removal of his community’s mayor one month before the mayor implicated him in the ambush. Without access to an adequate defense, Patishtán was found guilty by a court in Chiapas in March 2002 and received the maximum sentence of sixty years in prison. According to an April 12 article by Jessica Davies,
It is this remarkable man’s profound concern for the denial of basic rights to [poor indigenous] prisoners that has led him to becoming an organizer for justice and human rights and for better conditions and treatment within the prisons, inspiring the organization of groups of prisoners who participate in prayers and fasts, implement semi-permanent sit-ins, hold large annual events for their anniversaries and write powerful letters, all of this as adherents to the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle. Alberto has organized, acted as spokesperson for, and participated in several hunger strikes, leading to the release of hundreds of indigenous prisoners.
On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Patishtán will be the first person he pardons after a change in Mexico’s penal code takes effect today. The change will allow the president to pardon prisoners “when there are consistent indications of grave human rights violations” against them. Patishtán is currently being held at the National Institute of Neurology, where he was transferred from prison to undergo treatment for a brain tumor.