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Regional Interests

Mexico To Release Potentially Thousands Of Prisoners From Federal Custody

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mexico plans to release thousands of federal prisoners who have never been charged of a crime or who were victims of torture. Human rights groups have long criticized Mexico's judicial system for its use of torture. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said today he's prepared to open the doors of the country's prisons and right a long-perpetrated wrong in Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We do not want torture in Mexico."

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LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "No one deserves to be tortured - no one," declared Lopez Obrador. He said he wants federal prisoners who've been tortured to be released by September 15. He also said he will free nonviolent elderly and sick prisoners, as well as those who have been locked up for more than 10 years without being sentenced. Human rights groups have long criticized Mexico's judicial system. A 2019 study of tens of thousands of prisoners showed nearly 80% had been ill treated or tortured by officials. Maureen Meyer is with WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, a social justice advocacy group.

MAUREEN MEYER: Torture has been used in all too many cases to investigate crimes and to force confessions on suspects who, many times, didn't commit the crime they're being accused of.

KAHN: While she applauds the president's pledge to free torture victims, she says the practice will continue unless the perpetrators are prosecuted.

MEYER: It is used so much because no one is ever investigated or very few times have been investigated for actually committing the torture.

KAHN: WOLA looked at more than 10,000 cases of federal torture from 2006 to 2018 - in only 50 cases was the torturer convicted. The release of prisoners who confessed to crimes through torture could impact some very high-profile cases in Mexico, including the 2014 disappearance of 43 teaching students. Many of those charged in the case have said they were tortured. Lopez Obrador says he will sign the prisoner release decree next week.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN SHIELDS' "IKEBANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.