On September 1, Barillas land defenders Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez will stand trial again for accessory to murder. Citing serious irregularities and major errors in the initial trial earlier this year that condemned both men to 33 years and 4 months in prison, a Special Appeals court ruled on May 15 to annul the sentence and ordered the case be retried.
Both men have spoken out against the imposition of hydroelectric dams in their home in northern Huehuetenango and, like many other leaders, are now feelings the effects of a pattern of criminalization that has increased dramatically over the past few years.
Currently, six other men from Huehuetenango are detained and awaiting trial for outlandish legal charges that include terrorism and kidnapping – all are active community leaders who have organized to demand respect for their right to consultation regarding the imposition of mega-development projects in their territory. Across the United States, members of the NISGUA base are writing letters of encouragement to all of the leaders from Huehuetenango currently imprisoned for standing up for life. Click here to send a message of solidarity to the political prisoners and let them know they are not alone.
For more information, read NISGUA’s report on the movement for community referenda on mining and hydroelectric dams and the corresponding trend of criminalizing leaders standing up against unjust resource extraction.
Both Saúl and Rogelio are accused of being accomplices in the assassination of Guadalupe Francisco and Mateo Diego Simón, killed by a mob of roughly 500 people in 2010. Despite serious holes in the prosecution’s evidence – including shaky witness testimonies and an inability to place both men at the scene of the crime – a Huehuetenango court found both men guilty
of being accomplices to murder in February 2015. Saúl and Rogelio were previously detained from May 2012 – January 2013, accused by Spanish company, Hidro Santa Cruz of causing disturbances associated with the assassination of community member Andrés Francisco Miguel, on May 1 2012.
The retrial will open on September 1 and is expected to take a month and a half. If everything moves forward as scheduled, the sentencing hearing will take place on October 13, 2015.
Family members of the accused are calling for an international presence at the retrial, including from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, as one way to ensure that Saúl and Rogelio get a fair trial. TAKE ACTION!
Call on the U.S. Embassy to recognize the intentional manipulation of the Guatemalan justice system by transnational corporations, and observe the retrial. All signatures will be collected before August 21 to be turned in to the Embassy prior to the start of the retrial on September 1.