Update on the judicial process of the Guapinol River Defenders
Updated: Oct 2
Lee este blog en español aquí.
September 29, 2020
Two indictments have been presented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Tocoa related to the Guapinol River Defenders case.
The first is against 18 people for usurpation and damages to Inversiones Los Pinares related to alleged incidents on July 31, 2018 when the "Water and Life Camp" was installed on a public access road in Guapinol. These charges do not accumulate to more than 6 years of imprisonment in case of conviction and therefore, according to Honduran law, should not be subject to preventive detention of more than one year, that is, if the Court fulfills the legal requirements to justify remand in the first place.
1. Jeremías Martínez was arrested in Tocoa in December 2018 and charged with usurpation and damages. His judicial process was presided by Judge of National Jurisdiction Carlos Irías de León in San Pedro Sula who ordered preventive detention; since December 2018 he has been in jail in La Ceiba. His case was sent to trial in January 2020 and now the First Chamber of the Sentencing Court of National Jurisdiction in Tegucigalpa is hearing his case.
1.1. On September 24, 2020, the Court ordered that Jeremías Martínez be placed under house arrest because his time in preventative detention has ended. Despite this order, he remains in prison because he is one of the eight people who appeared in August 2019.
2. In the group of imprisoned defenders, one of them, Arnol Alemán, is also being charged with usurpation and damages. Judge Claudio Aguilar of the Court of National Jurisdiction originally issued a provisional dismissal in August 2019 in his case. The Los Pinares mining company and the Prosecutors appealed this decision and the Court of Appeals has not issued a final ruling.
3. Thirteen people volunteered to face these charges in February 2019 before Judge Carlos Irias de Leon. He was recused by the defense team after he filed a second surprise indictment at this time (see below) and the case was transferred to the National Court Judge Victor Mendez, who issued a final dismissal for the two crimes. Inversiones Los Pinares and the Prosecutor’s Office appealed that decision and there is still no final ruling from the Court of Appeals.
The second indictment refers to 31 persons prosecuted for the crimes of illicit association to the detriment of the State of Honduras; theft, unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson to the detriment of Santos Corea, a security manager hired by the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares; and an aggravated arson charge to the detriment of Inversiones Los Pinares. This request refers to alleged events that took place on September 7, 2018 (more information here).
1. A group of 12 people faced an initial hearing related to this indictment in March 2019 in which National Court Judge Victor Mendez dismissed all charges for lack of merit.
2. A group of eight people, plus the legal representatives of a ninth person who died three years before the alleged crimes were committed but who was accused by State Prosecutors, voluntarily presented themselves in August 2019 to face the charges. During the initial hearing, the judge of the National Jurisdiction Court, Lisseth Vallecillo, dismissed the charges of robbery and illicit association, but issued an indictment for the crimes of unjust imprisonment and aggravated arson. These charges do not require preventive detention but she ordered it anyway, without justifying her decision.
On August 13, 2020, the Court of Appeals notified the legal defense team of three appeals related to these two criminal proceedings. The Court apparently made the decisions on March 3, 2020, but only notified the parties more than five months later.
1. Regarding the appeal on the merits filed by the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares and the Public Prosecutor's Office on the final dismissal issued to the 12 persons on March 3, 2019:
1.1. The Court of Appeals arbitrarily revoked the dismissal of the two charges of aggravated arson and unjust deprivation of liberty against five of the 12 persons accused. They are: Juan López, Leonel George, Reynaldo Domínguez, Marco Tulio Ramos, José Adalid Cedillo. The Court did not individualize the charges against these five known defenders. Nor did it take into account changes in the criminal code that came into effect on June 25 that are favorable to the defenders.
1.2. The Court of Appeals changed the definitive dismissal for the 12 defenders to a provisional dismissal on the charge of robbery to the detriment of Santos Corea.
1.3. In response, the legal defense presented a challenge for the court to reconcider its ruling (reposición), which the Court of Appeals denied. The legal defense will file an amparo on this decision.
1.4. The case file was transferred from the Court of Appeals to the Court of National Jurisdiction in San Pedro Sula, with Judge Carlos Irias de Leon on September 14, 2020. Judge Irias de Leon originally heard the case in February 2019, but was recused by the defense team. As a result, the file was transferred to Tegucigalpa, and Judge Victor Mendez presided over the initial hearing in March 2019. In 2020, the Court of Appeals ruled and denied the 2019 recusal, so the case has returned to the Court that Judge Irias de León presides over.
1.5. Judge Irias de Leon now has to convene a hearing to notify the defenders of the decision of the Court of Appeals to revoke the dismissal. On Wednesday, September 16, the legal defense team filed a brief with the Court advising that the defenders were willing to come forward voluntarily to avoid capture. The judge had three days to respond, but has not yet done so.
2. As for the appeal on merit of the eight defenders Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Abelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Arnol Javier Aleman, Ewer Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Márquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz, who were ordered to be remanded in custody on September 1, 2020 by the National Court Judge Lisseth Vallecillo, the Court ruled the following on the matter:
2.1. The Court of Appeals ratified the indictment for the crimes of unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson to the detriment of Santos Corea, and aggravated arson to the detriment of the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares. These charges do not require preventive detention but the Court ratified the decision to keep them in jail.
2.2. The Court of Appeals ratified the decision of final dismissal for the crime of illicit association.
2.3. The Court of Appeals changed the final dismissal to a provisional dismissal for the crime of theft to the detriment of Santos Corea.
2.4. The case file was transferred to the Court of National Jurisdiction in Tegucigalpa. However, the defense has not yet been officially notified, and therefore, the legal defense team cannot file a new request for a bail review hearing.
3. Regarding the appeal filed on November 8, 2019 by the legal defense team in response to Judge Lisseth Vallecillo’s rejection to change the pretrial detention measures in the case of the 8 incarcerated defenders during a November 6 hearing:
3.1. The Court of Appeals referred to a completely different case in its decision, so its ruling does not make any sense.
3.2. The legal defense presented an amparo before the Constitutional Chamber in August 2020 to guarantee the rights of the defenders in the face of this decision. On 17 September 2020, the Constitutional Chamber admitted the amparo without suspending the proceedings and gave the Court of Appeals one day to present its report on its decision.
3.3. An amicus curiae brief written by national and international lawyers was submitted to the Constitutional Chamber on 18 September regarding the amparo.
3.4. The legal defense is awaiting the final decision of the Constitutional Chamber.
The families and the criminalized defenders are anxiously awaiting the next hearings, when the courts are due to rule on the application of preventive detention. Please keep informed and accompany us.