MEXICO CITY -- President Vicente Fox said Thursday that he had ordered the release of two peasant environmental activists whose convictions on weapons and drug charges had been condemned worldwide.
The freeing of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera comes less than a month after an attorney who had worked on their case, Digna Ochoa, was shot dead in her Mexico City law office after receiving death threats.
Fox said he had freed the men on medical grounds after consulting with legal experts and receiving many petitions from national and international human rights groups.
''With those actions, we demonstrate with facts my government's commitment to the promotion and observation of human rights in our country,'' Fox said.
Montiel and Cabrera led a group of peasant environmentalists in the mountains of Guerrero state, one of the most violent, impoverished and narcotics-ridden areas of Mexico.
They were arrested on May 2, 1999, by Mexican army troops and accused of growing marijuana and carrying illegal weapons.
Their defenders claimed that they had been tortured into confessions and that they had been persecuted because of their opposition to logging in the areas.
International human rights and environmental groups denounced the prosecution of Montiel and Cabrera and Montiel was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize for environmental activism last year.
''Amnesty International and the Sierra Club applaud the release of the two men,'' said Carmen Reed, an Amnesty International spokeswoman from Washington, D.C.
Fox has faced increasing criticism in recent weeks for his administration's alleged failure to act more firmly against human rights abuses.
Human rights activist Digna Ochoa, 38, who worked on the Montiel-Cabrera case, was murdered in her law office Oct. 18. A message left there threatened other rights workers.
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