Statement On Recent Verdicts In Honduras

. . . . Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  I want to speak briefly about the recent decision by the National Jurisdiction Sentencing Court in Honduras to acquit Honduran nationals Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez.  Both men were found to have been falsely accused of aggravated property damage, aggravated arson, and the use of homemade explosives, charges for which it turned out the government had no credible evidence.  

Espinal and Álvarez spent 19 months in a maximum-security prison awaiting trial. They were reportedly subjected to harsh conditions, including receiving only two hours of sunlight per month.  Despite being accused of common crimes, special courts created to try members of organized criminal networks presided over the process, including a judge located at a military base.  It took four years for a court to rule on their case and to finally absolve them of charges that were determined to be without merit.

Espinal and Álvarez, like dozens of other protesters, were arrested during the 2017 electoral turmoil that culminated in the re-election of current President Juan Orlando Hernandez.  Their case was used as a means to silence protesters and stifle discussion of the democratic process and the need for transparent elections.

Edwin Espinal is a human rights defender who has faced political persecution since 2009.  He is not alone.  Many human rights and environmental defenders, as well as independent journalists in Honduras, have suffered threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and assassinations by Honduran police or others acting on their behalf.

I and others here have repeatedly voiced our concerns with the Honduran government’s misuse of the judicial process to silence dissent.  Bringing charges with no credible evidence and holding social activists and other critics in prison, and subjecting them to lengthy criminal processes undermines due process and erodes public confidence in the integrity of the police and the courts.

I am also concerned with the lack of due process in the case of the eight imprisoned water defenders from Guapinol that has dragged on for years.  And, like many, I am waiting for the official sentencing hearing of Roberto David Castillo, the convicted co-author of the murder of Honduran environmentalist and indigenous activist, Berta Cáceres.

With another election just around the corner in Honduras, I urge the Honduran government to support a free and fair electoral process, as well as freedom of expression, association, and assembly for all Honduran citizens.  And I hope that the Honduras’ next leaders will reject the corrupt practices and impunity of the past, and support an independent judiciary, uphold the rule of law, hold the police and other public officials accountable when they abuse their authority, and restore the faith of the Honduran people in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

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