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Update – Simcoe County delegates return from Honduras, demand political prisoners’ release

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In AWARE News Network
May 25th, 2018
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Waiting outside La Tolva jail -Ben Powless photo

Update May 28 from the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor delegation  

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor, from rural Ontario, has returned from their seven-person fact-finding delegation (May 22-27) to Honduras to demand the release of political prisoner Edwin Espinal. They are focusing critical attention on the policies and actions of the Canadian and U.S. governments that have been empowering and legitimizing the corrupt, violent regime in power in Honduras since the 2009 military coup d’état .

The delegation was granted meetings with Canadian and U.S. Embassy officials and the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. The group demanded of all officials that Edwin must be released.

“The Honduran government has been empowered and enabled by on-going diplomatic and financial support from Canada and the United States and took advantage of a political crisis to imprison activists like Edwin,” said delegate Grahame Russell of Rights Action.

“We, as Canadians and U.S. citizens – through our policies – have helped create the human rights problem in Honduras.”

The delegation was accompanied by the Honduran human rights organization, the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), who are Edwin’s legal representatives.

As they move forward, the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor is planning an information/pot luck luncheon, where they will update the community on the 5-day fact finding delegation, date to be announced shortly.

The group plans to take their information to Ottawa to further pressure the Office of the Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau – and Global Affairs Canada – Minister Freeland – to act on Edwin Espinal’s and others’ behalf. The planning of a second delegation to Honduras in August is also underway.

The Spring family and Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor delegation thank the community of Elmvale for their continued support

Update May 26 from the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor delegation

Paying respects at grave of murdered Indigenous leader -Ben Powless photo

From Ben Powless – Day 5. (Day 4 was spent just meeting with embassies and the UN) We travelled the night before to La Esperanza, hometown of murdered Indigenous leader Berta Caceres.

There we met with her mother and brother, who told us about her life, the long history of fighting that her family came from, as well as their friendship and support of the fight to free political prisoners including Edwin Espinal.

We carried on to the home that Berta was living in while she was murdered, and took the opportunity to visit her grave and pay respects. Today was the last day of the official delegation, but I will be staying in the country for a few days longer.

Update May 24 from the Simcoe County Hondras Rights Monitor delegation

Karen Spring and other delegates outside La Tolva jail -Ben Powless photoKaren Spring and other delegates outside La Tolva jail -Ben Powless photo

Very good news from today (Thursday): After prolonged discussions, our group of 7 Canadians/Americans was able to gain access to the La Tolva military-run prison to visit political prisoner Edwin Espinal.

Thanks to the presence of local lawyers and activists, local media, and our international delegation, this was the first time that Karen Spring was able to visit Edwin since March 9th – and phones have been cut off since April 4th.

Edwin was in good spirits, despite many issues faced in jail. He expressed his gratitude for supporters in Honduras and around the world who continue fighting for him and other political prisoners.

And Janet Spring sent this email:

We got in to the jail. Two women from Progreso changed the sub-director’s mind! At first, he only let me, then left in his truck to make a call to the NPI- National Penitentiary Institute. When he came back, he then let all six of us in! It was amazing! I was in twice.

Edwin is very thin and looks pale. He is sleeping on a piece of foam that is old and says he is basically on the cement. It’s really hard in there, he says. He is in with people who have been in prison for over 20 years. Some have to live the rest of their lives in there. He says the men fight over food. The portions are small and always beans and rice. Water is scarce and comes from the local river. It is brought in by trucks – we saw two of them. The tanks are old and rusted, not at all sanitary. The same water is used for toilets, drinking, bathing, washing dishes…

Tomorrow we go to the Canadian and US embassies for a meeting. Then we are going back to the prison to visit again. We took him two big dinners and two bottles of water. There were vegetables in the dinners and he said he hasn’t had vegetables unless someone brings them in, he hasn’t had them in months. He thanks everyone for all the support and hard work. I told him everything we are doing, and all the things we have done so far . He says we give him hope.

News conference in Tegucigalpa

At a news conference May 23 at the office of the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) in Tegucigalpa are, from left of table, COFADEH coordinator Berta Oliva, Janet Spring of Elmvale, Grahame Russell of Rights Action and Honduran activist Karina Flores. -Ben Powless photo

Update #2  May 23, 2018 from Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

Honduras Delegation, Day 2: “Today we had a meeting in the morning with the sub-prosecutor general for Honduras about the situation of political prisoners.

“This was followed by a press conference with Janet Spring, mother of Karen Spring, and mother-in-law to political prisoner Edwin Espinal, as well as members of the Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners.

“Finally, we made an initial visit to La Tolva military-run prison, where the last two political prisoners there not freed on bail are being held. We were not allowed in but will return tomorrow with media.”

Simcoe County delegation to Honduras -Ben Powless photo

Springs and others detained at airport and interrogated for four hours

Karen Spring and other delegates arrive yesterday at Tegucigalpa airport -Ben Powless photo

From Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor, from rural Ontario, has sent a seven-person fact-finding delegation (May 22-27) to Honduras to demand the release of political prisoner Edwin Espinal, while focusing critical attention on the policies and actions of the Canadian and U.S. governments that have been empowering and legitimizing the corrupt, violent regime in power in Honduras since the 2009 military coup.

Mr. Espinal is the son-in-law of local Simcoe County resident Janet Spring who will be co-leading the delegation that includes: documentary filmmaker (Jesse Freeston); photographer (Ben Powless); a local minister from Elmvale (Meg Jordan); an emergency medicine physician (William Reeves); and co-leader Grahame Russell of the Canadian and U.S.-non-governmental organization, Rights Action. The delegation is also accompanying Janet’s daughter Karen Spring back to Honduras. Karen is the spouse of Mr. Espinal and a Canadian human rights activist and expert who has lived and worked in Honduras since 2009.

Human rights concerns

Upon arrival into the Tegucigalpa airport, at 11:30 am, May 22, five members of the delegation (Karen and Janet Spring, Jesse Freeston, Meg Jordan and William Reeves) were interrogated one by one, for close to four hours, most particularly Karen Spring who was returning home to where she has lived with Edwin for many years. The delegation members were grilled most particularly about their interests in and concern for human rights issues since fraudulent, violent elections of November 2017.

Upon release, they were met by Ben Powless and Grahame Russell waiting just outside, with other Honduran human rights defenders who had been keeping national and international human rights groups informed of the group’s detention.

Mr. Espinal has been held in a maximum-security prison since the date of his arbitrary arrest on January 19 of this year during massive protests against the deeply corrupted and repressive elections of November 2017. The Spring family has not heard from Edwin in over 45 days but know that he is being held in deplorable conditions on trumped up charges intended to criminalize him for his long-standing human rights work and activism.

“The delegation has requested meetings with various Honduran government officials including the Attorney General and the National Penitentiary Institute responsible for the conditions that Edwin is being held in” says Janet Spring, who has traveled to Honduras previously. “We have also asked the Canadian Embassy to help us visit the prison and bring food and water to Edwin and another political prisoner, Raul Alvarez, being held with him.”

In November 2017, protests erupted in Honduras after the country’s general elections were fraught with fraud. Mr. Espinal, like hundreds of thousands of Honduras, went to the streets in objection to the electoral fraud that maintained President Juan Orlando Hernandez in power. Protesters were shot at, leaving over 23 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands detained.

17 prisoners released 

A long-time human rights and pro-democracy activist, Mr. Espinal is one of 23 political prisoners the government has been holding in pre-trial detention in military jails. So far, 17 have been released as a result of international and national efforts including those of residents from Simcoe County.

However, the Spring family fears that the Honduran government will hold Mr. Espinal to set an example. “Edwin has been the target of political persecuting dating back to the U.S. and Canadian backed military coup d’état in Honduras in 2009,” explains Grahame Russell of Rights Action, who has known Edwin for years.

The delegation will also be requesting meetings with Canadian and U.S. embassy officials. “The Honduran government has been empowered and enabled by on-going diplomatic and financial support from Canada and the United States and took advantage of a political crisis to imprison activists like Edwin. We, as Canadians and U.S. citizens -through our policies- have helped create the human rights problem in Honduras.”

The delegation will be accompanied by the Honduran human rights organization, the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) who are Mr. Espinal’s legal representatives. The delegation will also be coordinating with the Convergence Against Re-election and the National Committee for the Freedom of Political Prisoners.

While in Honduras and upon returning to Canada and the U.S., the delegation will share its findings with government officials in both countries, the media and Simcoe County residents.

More information

Website: https://simcoecountyhondurasrightsmonitor.wordpress.com

Twitter : @can_hon_rights
Facebook: Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor
Email: simcoecountyhondurasrights@gmail.com

Edwin Espinal Update
Website: freeedwinespinallibertad.blogspot.com
Facebook: Free EDWIN ESPINAL Libertad
Twitter: @EdwinLibertad

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