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Guapinol: Trial against defenders to be held under a cloak of terror and without judicial guarantees

~ For immediate release ~

November 15, 2021

In 16 days, the eight defenders of the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers in Honduras, who have been arbitrarily detained for more than 2 years, will face trial on trumped-up charges brought forth by the Public Prosecutor of Tocoa and Inversiones Los Pinares, a company that is part of the Grupo Emco business structure of Lenir Perez and Ana Facusse. The company is operating an open-pit iron oxide mine and processing plant in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. In 2019, a community referendum overwhelming rejected mining in Tocoa, but the the Mayor's Office has refused to implement the decision and stop the projects, which have been denounced for environmental contamination and acts of corruption in the licensing process.

In recent weeks there has been an increase in defamation campaigns and threats to the families of the illegally detained defenders and other community members who have actively denounced the illegal implementation of the mine. This includes surveillance groups monitoring defenders' homes, an increase in robberies in the community, and rumors and social media campaigns aimed at stigmatizing and provoking hatred towards defenders in prison and their families.

Meanwhile, just last week, the Trujillo Tribunal, which will hear the trial, took the arbitrary decision to move the trial site to La Ceiba. In their ruling, they wrote:

On October 26, 2022, a hearing for the review of the precautionary measure was held in the physical facilities of the sentencing court of Trujillo, Colon, with roadblocks and crowds of people shouting slogans in front of the Court with loudspeakers, hindering and interrupting the hearing. Consequently, and seeing that in the court of Tocoa (original location of oral and public debate) there is only one vehicular and personal access, we decided to change the venue of the debate to the Palace of Justice of La Ceiba, Atlantida, where it meets: alternate vehicular access, security conditions, the distance from the place of the facts to be judged is distant; preventing risks, riots, or pressures of any kind.

Part of the ongoing defamation campaign has been painting the defenders in arbitrary detention, their families, community members and the Municipal Committee as violent, with absolutely no basis. The language that the Trujillo Court used in their ruling follows the same line of defamation - "risk prevention" "riots" and "pressure" and is deeply worrying. It not only questions their independence and objectivity, it sounds as though they are preemptively preparing to militarize and repress any kind of citizen participation - sit-ins, peaceful protests in attempts to let the Court know that all eyes are on the case, with hopes that judges would finally rule in accordance with the law - during the trial come December. This is why national and international accompaniment is so important during legal proceedings, especially in the post-electoral context.

The families, the Municipal Commmitte and the legal team believe the trial should be moved to a courtroom in Tegucigalpa where publicity and transparency can be guaranteed with live transmission and on-site observation. They will take all actions necessary to ensure the best possible conditions for a trial that is already plagued with irregularities and illegalities.

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