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The Appeals Court of Comayagua, Honduras, overturned a judicial ruling of September that established a jail sentence for the Coordinator of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Bertha Cáceres, and alternative measures for two other members of the organization, Tomás Gómez and Aureliano Molina.
The Court´s ruling of January 4th sustained the pleading of appeal filed by the activists´ lawyers and dismissed the arrest warrant and other precautionary measures against them. Nevertheless, this was a “provisional dismissal”, not a definitive one.
Real World Radio has followed this case closely and interviewed Bertha on Friday, who has been particularly persecuted by the Honduran judicial system and threatened because of her social activism.
Cáceres, Gómez and Molina were accused of usurpation, coercion and damage against the company Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) by the Attorney General and the company itself. This company is planning to develop the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, on Gualcarque River, in the ancestral territory of the Lenca indigenous people.
On September 20, Judge Reyes Lissien Knight, of the Intibucá Municipality Court, established a jail sentence for the coordinator of COPINH and alternative measures for the other two members of the organization. She also ruled the eviction of the Lenca community from their own lands, a decision which was also overturned by the Appeals Court of Comayagua on January 4,
After September´s ruling, Real World Radio interviewed the defense lawyer, Víctor
Fernández, who explained that “the Lenca people has exercised its right to control the territory through a mechanism that regulates who enters the area or not”. The indigenous people were not consulted about the dam that will be built on their territory. “The authorities consider their opposition to be usurpation and coercion, because the community has made the decision to expel construction company Sinohydro”, added Fernández. COPINH leaders were considered “instigators” of these indigenous actions.
“We have denied that the Lenca people are usurpers of their own territory, and to prove this, we submitted evidence of this being an ancestral indigenous territory”, stated the lawyer.
On Friday´s interview with Real World Radio, Cáceres shared her satisfaction with the Comayagua Appeals Court ruling and thanked for the national and international solidarity and the team of lawyers who were fundamental in this favorable ruling.
However, the case is not closed. COPINH´s coordinator warned that this was a “provisional dismissal”, not a definitive one. “We demand a definitive dismissal since there is no evidence, no indications that we are responsible for this crime they accuse us of”.
“(…) The General Attorney´s Office can continue their legal proceedings, and knowing how they act, we know that the threat against COPINH of legal persecution around this case and others will continue” said Bertha.
Nevertheless, the leader expects that this favorable resolution will influence other cases faced by COPINH and her,
“We´ll wait and see what the General Attorney´s Office does, we need to be alert about what DESA does, since they can resort to several measures in this case and in others”, said Bertha. “They´ve always threatened and attacked COPINH through the media, militarization and pressure”, she added and highlighted that the Council continues “demanding justice”.
By the end of the interview, Bertha told us that the World Bank had desisted from their intention to finance the Agua Zarca project “also because of “COPINH´s claims”.
A two-and-a-half year process of work which resulted in a meeting with several thousand Brazilian peasants; “a process that didn´t start now, and that won´t end here”, said Itelvina Massioli, national leader of the peoples´ struggle for land, agrarian reform and food sovereignty, in interview with Real World Radio after the 6th Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).
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