Honduras: Criminalisation and arbitrary detention of 8 Guapinol HRDs opposing mining project by Inversiones los Pinares
On August 27, 2019, 8 Guapinol River defenders, all members of the Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos, were sent to pretrial detention after appearing voluntarily before the National Jurisdiction Court on August 26.
The charges are connected to the HRDs' activities to protect the San Pedro and Guapinol rivers in 2018. Between August and October 2018, local communities peacefully occupied the margins of a public access road leading to a mining project operated by Inversiones Los Pinares. The HRDs alleged violations of the rights to access to land, food and water, including heavy sediment water contamination, and irregularities in project licensing and implementation.
The first hearing of August 29, 2019 was suspended after their defence attorneys recused the judge for irregularities in the process. At the next hearing of August 31, 2019, the judge of the National Court of Jurisdiction of Tegucigalpa dismissed the charges of "unlawful association" and "theft”, but formalised the charges of "arson" and "deprivation of liberty" for all human rights defenders, including a ninth HRD, Antonio Martínez Ramos, who died before the alleged events took place.
The defenders have remained in detention since their initial arrest. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and other rights experts have declared the arbitrariness of the HRDs' detention, and called for respect of fair trial standards.
On 9 February, 2022, the Trujillo Sentencing Court sentenced six of the eight defenders, namely Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Abelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Ewer Alexander Cedillo and Daniel Márquez, for the crimes of aggravated damages and simple damages against the company Inversiones Los Pinares and unjust deprivation of liberty. Jeremías Martínez and Arnold Javier Alemán were acquitted.
On 10 February, 2022, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice recognised irregularities in the process and ordered the immediate release of the water defenders.
Rights groups are calling on the Trujillo Court and the Olanchito Penal Centre to speed up the procedure fulfilling the ruling of the Supreme Court on 10 February for the immediate release of the six defenders, who are still deprived of their liberty.
In 2021, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Inversiones Los Pinares to respond; the company did not respond.