(Reuters) - A U.S. citizen serving a 22-year prison sentence in Nicaragua for drug trafficking and money laundering who has become a cause célèbre for international human rights activists is likely to be released soon, one of his lawyers said on Wednesday.
Jason Puracal, 35, could be out of jail in a few days, his Nicaragua attorney, Fabbrith Gomez, told Reuters, adding that the appeals court judges annulled the original trial.
The Nicaraguan court of appeals would not confirm on Wednesday that Puracal was going to be ordered released.
"The family is thrilled to hear the news that they are another huge step closer to bringing Jason home. There is one thing we have known all along over the past two years: Jason is innocent," Eric Volz, founder of an international crisis resource group called the David House Agency that has been helping push for Puracal's release, said in a statement.
Puracal was found guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering by a Nicaraguan trial judge last year after being detained in 2010, though he has consistently maintained his innocence.
An appeals court heard Puracal's case last month after his supporters pushed for one, saying he was wrongly convicted. The supporters redoubled their efforts earlier this summer upon learning that Puracal, who has been in solitary confinement, was put on suicide watch by Nicaraguan authorities.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in May that Puracal was arbitrarily imprisoned and recommended he be freed.
Puracal's other backers include a human rights lawyer who previously worked on behalf of former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
A U.S. citizen born in Washington state, Puracal became a resident of Nicaragua after serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2002, and he has married a Nicaraguan woman, with whom he has a son.
Before his arrest, he was working at a real estate office in the Nicaraguan city of San Juan del Sur, a surfing destination on the Pacific Coast. Puracal's supporters said he came under suspicion due to his job as a real estate agent, which gave him control over large sums of money held in escrow for property transactions.
Prosecutors said that Puracal used a real estate company to buy properties with drug money.
Reporting by Mary Slosson in Sacramento, California; Additional reporting by Ivan Castro in Managua, Nicaragua; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Philip Barbara