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Honduran Court of Appeals Must Release Guapinol River Defenders This Week

Urgent press release

Honduras - Monday, January 25, 2021

The illegally imprisoned Guapinol River defenders must be released this week by the Court of Appeals of La Ceiba who now have the case in their hands. Last Friday, Magistrates Irasema Guillén, Rubenia Galeano, Jimmy Chirinos and Garín Enoc Urquía, received the appeal against the arbitrary December 19, 2020 ruling issued by Judge Zoé Guifarro of the Court of Appeals of Tocoa, who, without legal basis, denied to substitute the preventive measure of preventive detention during a long expected hearing. The December ruling violated the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code and international treaties and the defenders, in remand since September 1, 2019, now depend on the judicial independence of the Appellate Court Magistrates to put an end to their arbitrary detention.

During the December hearing, Judge Guifarro refused to even consider the offer of bail, a guarantee protected by the Honduran constitution. In addition, she failed to consider the reasons why the defenders should be released, namely that they do not present a risk of escape, are not part of an illegal group, but rather of a nationally and internationally recognized human rights organization, and are not a threat to the investigation of the alleged events that occurred two and a half years ago.

National and international law clearly establishes that preventative detention should only be used in extreme circumstances when the Public Prosecutor's Office has proven that the requirements for a custodial measure have been met, which has not happened in this case. There is no legal justification for the continued detention of defenders and the Court of Appeal must act.

The Guapinol and San Pedro River Defenders on the northern coast of Honduras have been held in preventative detention since September 1, 2019 in response to their peaceful participation in a legitimate protest camp meant to protect the water sources that originate in the Carlos Escaleras Mountain National Park from iron oxide mining. There are countless illegalities and acts of corruption related to the granting of licenses for the operation of the mining project, in addition to allegations of environmental contamination, none of which have been investigated by the responsible authorities.

The Guapinol case has received national and international attention because it highlights the restrictions that exist in Honduras regarding freedom of association, assembly, and the right to protest against extractive projects imposed without the consent of affected communities.

The appeal was filed immediately after Judge Guifarro's December ruling, but was not transferred by the Tocoa Court to La Ceiba until last Friday, January 22. According to the Honduran Criminal Procedural Code, the Court of Appeals has three days to review the appeal and issue a ruling based on legal merit, not political and economic pressure.

Today, legal experts are presenting an amicus curiae brief to the Court of Appeals in La Ceiba. The legal document must be taken into consideration by the judges when they rule on the case.

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