Tegucigalpa. - Eight environmental defenders of the Atlantic zone of Honduras have been in prison for 15 months due to their opposition to a mining project which is plagued with irregularities. This Saturday, the judge Zoe Guifarro, of the Sectional Court of First Instance in Tocoa, department of Colón, ruled out the review of the measures requested by the legal representatives of the defenders. The judge decided that the defenders will not be able to defend themselves in freedom after she reviewed the measures requested by the defending legal team.
A group of human rights defense lawyers had waited since Friday that the judge would finally release the defenders of the San Pedro and Guapinol rivers, located in the municipality of Tocoa, in the department of Colón. The defenders are opposed to a mining concession for the exploitation of iron oxide of 200 hectares within the boundaries of the Carlos Escaleras National Park.
The defenders, who oppose the mining project of the Inversiones Los Pinares company property owned by couple Lenir Pérez and Ana Facussé, son-in-law and daughter, respectively, of the late businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum, were initially charged with the crimes of usurpation, damages, illicit association, and theft. Now, they have to face justice for the crimes of aggravated arson, damage, and unjust deprivation of liberty.
The resolution was adopted by the sectional judge of the city of Tocoa, Zoe Guifarro, who declared the request to review preventive detention measures inadmissible, which implies the denial of the request made by the private defense, which is composed of several lawyers with recognized reputation and long experience in the defense of human rights.
Seven of the defendants are currently in prison in the Yoro, Olanchito: Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz, José Abelino Cedillo, Cantarero, José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbin Nahúm Hernández, Arnold Javier Alemán; while Jeremías Martínez, is in the penal center of La Ceiba, Atlántida.
In February of 2020, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) argued before the Court of Appeals of Honduras that the deprivation of liberty of the eight defenders of the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers should be revoked because it constitutes an arbitrary measure contrary to international standards on human rights and guarantees of due process.
In a press conference, held in the morning outside the Tocoa courts, the team of defense attorneys questioned the handling of the case and demanded the immediate release of the water defenders.
The lawyer and human rights defender, Edy Tábora, warned that if the resolution was contrary to what was requested, it was because a political sentence was being dictated by the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Rolando Argueta.
Once the resolutio by Judge Zoe Guifarro was known, Tábora pointed out that what happened on Saturday afternoon confirms "the criminalization pact that exists between the Judicial Power, the Public Ministry with the Los Pinares company" to keep private freedom to environmental defenders.
The environmental conflict, which has kept environmental defenders in prison since September 1, 2019, has generated violence and conflict, causing at least seven deaths to date and the prosecution of 32 community leaders.
The denial for environmentalists to wait for their trial in freedom contrasts with the multiple measures applied in favor of former public officials and business executives implicated in high-impact corruption cases and who have been released by the justice in the application of the new Penal Code that has been enacted since June 2020.
Faced with this situation, the Honduran population and especially organizations that defend human rights and work on anti-corruption, have questioned the application of selective justice that, on the one hand, promotes impunity in sectors linked to power and on the other hand, it is cruel against those who fight for the defense of the territories against the implementation of extractive industry projects that are causing widespread violence.
Translated by: Giada Ferrucci