On November 15th, the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) announced that two more of the 11 political prisoners illegally detained during the 18-day state of siege imposed in Santa Cruz de Barillas, have been liberated due to a lack of evidence linking them to the crimes of which they were accused. The state of siege was put in place in response to rioting following the murder of a local leader, Andrés Francisco Miguel, well known for his resistance to the Qanbalam hydroelectric dam project. While Pascual de Pascual Pedro and Esteban Bernabé Gaspar, have returned home to their families, eight political prisoners in the Barillas case remain in prison.
|Esteban Bernabé Gaspar|
|Pascual de Pascual Pedro|
Guatemalan social movements and human rights groups have long denounced the detention of the 11 community leaders as illegal, and have maintained that their imprisonment is a direct result of the men’s opposition to the hydroelectric project. Indeed, this recent ruling reflects the fact that the Public Prosecutor (MP) assigned to the case has never provided evidence individually linking the men to the specific crimes for which they were accused. Notwithstanding, the proceeding judge ruled that the prosecutor has three months to present new evidence in the case.
Social and human rights organizations, family members of the accused and the political prisoners themselves continue to denounce the illegality and irregularity of the detention. Despite ongoing persecution, including an armed attack against two of the detained while being transported to a court hearing and 33 outstanding arrest warrants for community leaders, social organizations and individuals in Barillas are encouraged by this victory and are cautiously confident in the capacity of the legal system to see that justice is done.
“The result of this hearing is of great joy for the liberated and their families. It gives hope to all of the Barillenses who continue to suffer unjust persecution and stimulates them to fight for the dignity of people and pueblos. We believe in the Justice System and call on the authorities to rectify their actions and commit completely to legal objectivity and the laws of the country in order to guaranty that all citizens live in peace, and that the interests of the companies do not come before the interest of the people and the country” (ADH, 2012).
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