French woman freed in Mexico home to hero's welcome

A Frenchwoman freed from Mexican jail after a court said police violated her rights by staging her arrest for kidnapping on national television, arrived in Paris Thursday to a hero's welcome.

Florence Cassez speaks tot he media on her arrival at Roissy airport in France on January 24, 2013. Cassez arrived on a flight from Mexico City with her father Bernard, a day after Mexico's Supreme Court voted for her release after seven years in prison in a case that strained Franco-Mexican ties.

A smiling Florence Cassez arrived on a flight from Mexico City with her father Bernard, a day after Mexico's Supreme Court voted for her release after seven years in prison in a case that strained Franco-Mexican ties.

France's foreign minister was among the many dignitaries joining her mother and members of her support committee for her arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Dozens of reporters and camera crews were also in place to record the arrival of the 38-year-old whose release was hailed by President Francois Hollande, who said it marked "the end of a particularly painful period."

Hollande was due to meet Cassez and her family later Thursday.

"I have suffered as a victim for the last seven years," Cassez told reporters at the airport. "This also a great victory for Mexicans in the sense that justice has been done."

Cassez, who has always proclaimed her innocence, was accused of being involved with a gang of kidnappers known as the Zodiacs, allegedly run by her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta.

The court justices ruled that the police violated her right to presumption of innocence and consular access when it staged her arrest in a live national television broadcast on December 9, 2005.

Mexican television showed police storming her ex-boyfriend's ranch near Mexico City, where they detained Cassez and freed three hostages as cameras rolled.

It was later revealed that she had actually been arrested on a road hours before the raid. The federal police said the re-enactment was made at the request of the media.

Her treatment caused a diplomatic spat in February 2011, when Mexican authorities cancelled a "Year of Mexico" cultural event in France after its then president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to dedicate the festivities to Cassez.

The case of Cassez, who had faced 60 years in jail, also put a spotlight on Mexico's troubled justice system, where most crimes go unsolved and authorities are often accused of corruption and abuse.

But her release angered crime victim rights activists. As Cassez was driven away from prison after her release, wearing a flak jacket, some people shouted "Kidnapper! Murderer!"

Though all five Supreme Court justices agreed that Cassez's constitutional and human rights were violated, two of them said the case should be sent back to lower courts. The court did not rule on whether she was guilty or innocent.

The Supreme Court already examined her case last year, but the panel was split on whether to release her, even though four of the five justices then agreed that there were irregularities in the case.

Some Mexican rights groups said the victims were forgotten in the Cassez case.

"Sadly, today showed that the rights of victims don't count," said Isabel Miranda de Wallace, leader of the Stop the Kidnapping Association. "What counts is power, money and connections, leaving the victims with empty hands."

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency