After 914 Days of Illegal Detention, Freed Defenders Renew Commitment to Fight for Guapinol River
Updated: Feb 27
February 25, 2022
The defenders are finally at home. Credit Leonardo Guevara.
The Guapinol and Sector San Pedro Water Defenders were finally released from illegal detention on February 24, 2022, after a 30-month battle for their freedom. They were part of the legitimate "For Water and Life" Protest Camp set up in the community of Guapinol after environmental contamination from an open-pit mining project in Carlos Escleras National Park caused rivers in the area to become muddy.
On August 26, 2019, the defenders voluntarily appeared in court to clarify the false criminal charges brought by state prosecutors and the Los Pinares mining company.
During their initial hearing days later, on September 1, 2019, National Jurisdiction Judge Lisset Vallecillo issued formal indictments against the environmentalists on charges of unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson against Santos Corea (a security contractor working for Los Pinares) and aggravated arson against Los Pinares. Although the charges of "illicit association" (criminal conspiracy) that were initially filed against the defenders were dismissed, Judge Vallecillo issued the preventive measure of pretrial detention to the defenders without any legal justification.
Despite the fact that the legal team requested numerous hearings to review the measures, and that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that their imprisonment was illegal and a punishment for their legitimate defense of the environment, the Honduran Judiciary, through judges at all levels, ruled to maintain their detention without any legal justification. According to the UN Resolution, the Honduran State is responsible for full reparation and for investigating and sanctioning of those responsible for the 914 days of illegal detention. For the Municipal Committee, this should include, among others, physical and psychological damages for the defenders, the restoration of the core zone of the Carlos Escaleras National Park (that was irregularly modified by Congress to allow mining) and the reparation of the environmental damages caused by the mining company and the cancellation of the environmental license, which was illegal obtained as demonstrated in trial.
The Guapinol River.
From the beginning of the prosecution, legal documents, including police reports, were shown to be false, and witnesses, mostly company employees, lied and contradicted themselves repeatedly during hearings throughout the judicial process. After a sham trial, six of the defenders were convicted on February 9, 2022 on charges of wrongful deprivation of liberty and aggravated damages against Santos Corea (damages was a new crime illegally added against the defenders at the beginning of the trial) and aggravated damages and damages against Los Pinares mining company.
The following day, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court notified the defense that they had ruled that day in favor of two writs of amparo, outstanding of resolution since 2020 and 2021 respectively. The resolutions meant the termination of the legal process and an end to the remand, but it took two weeks for the case file to arrive back at the Trujillo Court, where the Judges of the Tribunal had the obligation to implement the resolutions.
Outside the courthouse in Trujillo, families respond to the news their loved ones will finally be released.
On February 24, the defenders' families spent hours in front of the Trujillo Court demanding that the defenders finally be released. Around 4:30 p.m., the judges finally decided to revoke the indictment and ordered the immediate release of the defenders. The families, accompanied by hundreds of neighbors from Guapinol and surrounding communities, organized peasant cooperatives, CONADEH, national and international human rights organizations led a caravan to immediately recover the defenders, while media outlets rushed to the Olanchito Prison to get reactions.
Waiting for news of the court resolution outside the Trujillo Courthouse. At minute 18, you can see the reaction of the families when they receive the news that their loved ones will finally be freed.
At least 50 truckloads, dozens of motorcycles and a bus full of supporters drove the defenders back to Guapinol where they were greeted with fireworks, applause and hugs from their loved ones, religious leaders and the organizations that make up the Municipal Committee in Defense of the Commons and Public Goods of Tocoa. At least 50 truckloads, dozens of motorcycles and a bus full of supporters drove the defenders back to Guapinol where they were greeted with fireworks, applause and hugs from their loved ones, religious leaders and the organizations that make up the Municipal Committee in Defense of the Commons and Public Goods of Tocoa.
The Guapinol and Sector San Pedro River Defenders are free after 914 days. Credit: Dunia Perez.
During the celebration in the community's soccer field, the defenders reiterated their commitment to continue fighting for the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers and to put an end to illegal mining in the Carlos Esclaras National Park. See all the details and photos on our Telegram channel.
First reactions of the Defenders and their supporters upon arriving in Guapinol (Spanish only via FB Live Guapinol Despierta).
Thanks to each and every one of you who believe in our just cause and accompanied the struggle for justice and freedom. We continue for the freedom of our rivers!