MEXICO CITY – Human rights groups hailed on Thursday a Mexican Supreme Court decision to free a man who claimed soldiers tortured him into confessing to having played a role in a drug-related massacre.
The court ruled that 28-year-old Israel Arzate Melendez's confession wasn't valid because he talked to soldiers rather than prosecutors, as the law requires.
"There's no justice with scapegoating," Arzate said Thursday in a press conference. "They wanted to catch an innocent man and make him guilty."
Human Rights Watch said the decision sends a clear message that evidence obtained through torture won't be accepted. Activists have complained of human rights abuses by Mexican security forces in regions where troops have been deployed to fight drug cartels.
Arzate's case was among dozens cited by Human Rights Watch in an investigation published two years ago.
Arzate said soldiers snatched him off the street, gave him electric shocks and asphyxiated him. He claimed they also said that his wife would be raped and killed unless he admitted to a role in the 2010 killing of 15 mostly teenagers at a party in Ciudad Juarez. The massacre was one of the worst attacks since Mexico launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.
A judge had previously said that his forced account was too detailed to be fabricated.
Relatives of the victims of the massacre say it is a shame that the torture allegation did away with witness testimony.
"People saw him there the day of the massacre but the court decides that doesn't count," said Arcelia Medrano, mother of one of the victims. "All that evidence got us nowhere because Arzate was tortured."
Amnesty International said Arzate's case highlights the weaknesses of Mexico's justice system in solving high-profile cases.
Four other men have been convicted of participating in the massacre as members of the Juarez Cartel.
A former police officer who became a top Juarez Cartel figure pleaded guilty of ordering the attack in a U.S. Court and was sentenced to life in prison. He was tried there because he also faced charges in the slayings of a U.S. consulate employee and her husband.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Chavez contributed to this report from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.