Wednesday

2nd Dec 2020

Murder highlights plight of Sakharov prize nominees

  • A stretch of river in Guapinol, near the Inversiones Los Pinares mining concession where a local activist is facing down armed soldiers guarding the mine, according to the photographer. (Photo: Peg Hunter)

The killing of a Honduran environmental rights defender has highlighted the plight of his imprisoned compatriots, recently shortlisted for the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

Arnold Joaquín Morazan was shot dead in his home in Guapinol, a small low-income community on Honduras's north coast, earlier this week in what is being reported as a murder by local media.

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Along with eight other now jailed Guapinol activists, Morazan had been protesting against the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares, in a country whose US-backed military coup in 2009 gave rise to an authoritarian pro-business political party.

The company had filed criminal complaints against 32 people, including Morazan, following their peaceful protest against a large open-pit mine inside a protected national park.

"The murder of Morazan comes at a moment of increased violence and intimidation in the Guapinol community," said Luxembourg's Green MEP Tilly Metz, in an emailed statement on Thursday (15 October).

"I firmly condemn this murder and call for an independent and international investigation," she said, adding that the EU needs to pile pressure on the Honduran authorities to guarantee the safety of the Guapinol community.

She has since sent a letter, along with the Greens and far-left GUE leadership, demanding a public reaction from the European Parliament president David Sassoli.

The two political groups earlier this year jointly nominated the eight jailed activists for the EU's Sakharov prize, an annual award given to people who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.

The eight have been held in pre-trial detention for more than year for alleged crimes linked to their opposition to an iron oxide mine, which threatens to contaminate the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers.

Hit men and assassinations

But a steady offensive against the community appears to be part of a larger campaign to intimidate and silence land and water rights defenders in the region.

Metz said that as of last week numerous military and police patrols had besieged the community, in the absence of any due process or probable cause. She noted patrols of up to 50 security personnel were being dispatched.

Such intimidation and tactics have forced some to flee, seeking refuge in the US and elsewhere.

At least two dozen land and environmental defenders have been murdered in Honduras since early 2016 for defending land rights in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Among them is Berta Cáceres, an Honduran indigenous leader who was also shortlisted for the prize along with the jailed activists.

She too was killed in her home in March 2016, following a long fight against the construction of a large hydroelectric dam.

A court later ruled the murder had been ordered by executives of the Agua Zarca dam company Desa, which had hired hitman to assassinate the 44-year old Cáceres.

The European Parliament plenary is set to vote on who to award the Sakharov prize before the end of the month. Other shortlisted entries include the opposition in Belarus and the archbishop of Mosul, Iraq.

The eight detained Guapinol activists are Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Avelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kevin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Aleman, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Marquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz.

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