International Day of Action Planned to Support Honduran Political Prisoners, Lori Berenson Speaks out Against Imprisoning Protesters

Groups in solidarity with the people of Honduras have announced a Global Day of Action for March 19 to support political prisoners, especially those arrested after the contested presidential elections of November 26, 2017.

Former political prisoner jailed in Peru from 1996-2010, Lori Berenson (photo above) spoke during the webinar to encourage international solidarity for those jailed in Honduras.  Berenson was charged and convicted in Peru for working with a terrorist group, charges that she denied.  Berenson spoke about how international solidarity changed her prison experience.  She said as a political prisoner, “You don’t get very far on your own.”

Berenson described an experience where prisoners showed solidarity with one another, and that families of those incarcerated were unwilling to accept abuse and “unjust accusations.”  “They took action.  There was a group of family members that collected 20,000 signatures to change prison conditions.  It was extremely successful and had a huge impact.”

Berenson added that people wrote letters to Congressional representatives, made phone calls, “Thousands of people I’d never met.”

Berenson called on supporters to work with state departments, to support the families of political prisoners, and demand that prisons respect the rights of those incarcerated, “Solidarity can stop this.  I know this can happen because I’ve lived this.  Force the Honduran government to get rid of the preposterous charges and free them now.”

The global day of action will emphasize support for the 26 post-election political prisoners, oppose prison conditions, and the US and Canadian role in the issue of political prisoners.

Canadian citizen Karen Spring, is the Latin American Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network and longtime partner to one of the post-election arrestees.  Spring said that Edwin Espinal has long been targeted by the Honduran government as a high profile activist in opposition to the Juan Orlando Hernandez government and for protesting against the 2009 military coup.

Espinal was arrested on January 19, the day before a National Week of Action was planned to protest election fraud.  He was charged with terrorism among other serious charges. 

Spring reported that Espinal became involved in activism and human rights defense after the coup especially after his then girlfriend, Wendy Avila, was killed at a post-coup protest that was tear gassed.

“Edwin’s case is a clear example of what people face as a result of their activism for speaking out about human rights abuses, ” Spring described a series of human rights abuses that Espinal suffered.  She said that as a community organizer, Espinal was a constant target of the local police force.  One one occasion she said, a team of 5 officers forced Espinal into their car, tortured him by beating him, pepper spraying him, and tasering him many times on different parts of his body.

Espinal was released with the help of the Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), the offices where he arrived immediately following his release.  He exhibited signs of torture with a swollen face and welts on this body.  According to Spring, he filed formal complaints about the incident, but that nothing happened and the police are still employed on the force.

In the following years, Spring says that Espinal faced ongoing repression extending to his family.  His house was raided under accusations of having weapons and drugs.  The raid was later determined to be illegal, but again, no charges or discipline against officers resulted after his complaints.

Spring described another beating for his organizing in another neighborhood, “So much of what Edwin has faced is what so many others have faced.  These are patterns that repeat themselves, and are systematic.”

Spring described an environment of post-electoral crisis where thousands were arrested while protesting in the streets, dozens were injured, and at least 35 were killed in the streets – including minors and the elderly – by armed forces.

Spring added that arbitrary detentions are not new to Honduras who described a broader context of labor leaders, campesinos, journalists, land defenders, students, and others who are often arrested and imprisoned, or assassinated for their work since the coup.

Another case discussed by Spring is that of Lourdes Gómez Núñez, a mother of three children whose father is also a political prisoner.  Gómez Núñez was arrested by US trained Tigres, a branch of special police force that has existed just since 2014.  Witnesses say that Gómez Núñez was arrested at 5:00 a.m. although some of the 11 others arrested at the same time were arrested at 3:00 a.m.  No one in the Pinenta community saw arrest warrants at the time of the arrests.  Spring said that Gómez Núñez’ house was raided and that the Tigre forces were about to arrest her sister-in-law in the house, but discovered the children, the youngest of whom is 5 years old, and refrained from arresting her.

Gómez Núñez is being held in Tela, Honduras, but Spring wanted participants in the webinar to remember eight political prisoners held in Northeast Progreso, five in Choloma, and 10 in El Pozo.  The majority (17) are being held in military-run maximum security prisons.

According to a United Nations report released last week, it is concluded that the Honduran government specifically sent political prisoners to maximum security facilities to punish them for their involvement in the post-election protests.

Investigations into maximum security prisons in Honduras find that the physical structure, and the administration of the prisons raise suspicions among human rights observers.  A July 2017 report by Nasim Chatha of the Alliance for Global Justice discusses how El Pozo prison for example reflects more US prisons than Honduran ones, ” It looks exactly like a US prison — it even has a disabled parking spot (unlike, unfortunately, almost any other building in Honduras).”

James Jordan also of AFGJ and who also participated in the webinar described the modern Honduran prison as a pattern of a mass incarceration model that the US is exporting, “We know of 38 countries where the US has engaged in prison building.”  Jordan says that the first of the 38 began in Colombia in 2000, La Tramacua, “That’s why Colombia is so important.  These patterns are being exported.”

Jordan added that prison conditions sound similar to what he has witnessed in Colombia such as the lack of an orientation, and the lack of a meeting with prison officials.  Withholding water from those imprisoned is another way that Jordan says is punishment.

In early March Espinal launched a hunger strike in demand for medical attention at La Tolva where he is being held.  He had been demanding medical care for an illness that was spreading throughout the prison.  Days later a Tuberculosis epidemic was reported in the prison.  While on hunger strike, water was only provided 5-10 minutes a day throughout the prison.  All required uses of water including flushing of toilets, showers, and the filling of water bottles had to be completed in these few moments.  Spring said that Espinal was forced to discontinue his hunger strike for lack of water.

Lack of food is an issue as well.  Spring took reports of meals being served sometimes 5-7 hours apart.  Unlike traditional Honduran prisons where food can be taken inside to share a meal as a family, as Spring explains “It’s a cultural thing that people are allowed to take food,” food is not allowed to be taken into La Tolva.

Spring said that she has been the only visitor that has been allowed in to see Espinal, she thinks because she’s a foreigner, “Honduran families are forced to pay 3000 to 3500 Lempiras (over $100 US ) to get authorization to be able to see their family member, but they are forced to wait in the sun and time frames are arbitrary.”

“The rule of law doesn’t work in Honduras.  It seems that the state has all the power and the force to build cases but no political will to investigate them.”

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An accompaniment delegation will take place April 8-15.  An attempt will be made to visit those incarcerated in La Tolva, and El Pozo and to take testimony as well as from other survivors of violence and repression.

You can look for more information about the delegation on the above websites.



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