Monday, June 11, 2012

Political Prisoner Released

Humberto Castillo, held since 2009 on meritless charges filed by the de facto regime, is finally out of prison, awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

Castillo was captured in a raid on the property of SELCOM, a computer repair service, where he was employed as a night watchman on November 28th, 2009, the night before the presidential election held under the de facto regime.  When captured, he had a backpack with two cellular phones in it. Police claimed they found arms on the property.

Castillo's actual crime?

Public Prosecutor Luis RubĂ­ chose to charge him with terrorism, illegal possession of arms,  and illicit association.  I say "chose to" because, as the courts eventually found, there was no evidence he possessed any weapons (the official report states he was unarmed).

The main argument to arrest him for terrorism was based on illicit association. With whom? I'm glad you asked.

At his preliminary trial over detention in December 2009, the judge who heard the proof of "illicit association" found the charge had merit because Castillo was a a supporter of Manuel Zelaya, and ordered him held in prison to await trial, according to lawyer Kenia Oliva of COFADEH.

About a year ago, the Appeals Court ordered a definitive dismissal of the charges of illict association and illegal weapons possession. They, however, continued to hold Humberto Castillo as his charge of terrorism remained waiting to be heard.

The first judge assigned the case, Thelma Cantarero, was already steeped in controversy.  She was one of three judges to hold a reporter guilty of slander in 2004 for reporting that a government report to then Security Minister Oscar Alvarez called out a high status individual as a drug trafficker.

She also held a bail hearing for Marcelo Chimirri, ex Director of Hondutel charged with corruption, and set him free on a four million lempira bond.  She was one of three judges, along with  Raul Chevez, who voted to acquit police for abuses when they arrested and beat La Tribuna cameraman, Martin Ramirez in 2009 as he attempted to photograph a car accident in Tegucigalpa.

In January 2012, she twice postponed Castillo's trial, first on January 11, then again on the 18th, before holding a hearing on January 26th at which both sides presented their arguments.  At that point she suspended the trial again because Judge Raul Chevez had suddenly noticed that the person who created the case against Castillo was his wife, prosecutor Daniela Galo.

Now Humberto Castillo is free to await trial on the terrorism charges, after two and a half years in prison.  He must register with the court each week. He also has been ordered to avoid attending meetings of the Resistance-- part of the court order that continues to suggest that for this judge, at least, having the wrong political opinions is evidence of a crime.

Kenia Oliva of COFADEH made it clear: Castillo was a political prisoner
the legal panorama for a political prisoners in the country is awful because there are no judicial protections for him and this makes the process more difficult, because it depends on the political will.
While Castillo was held the legal maximum in preventive detention, the owner of the business where arms were found-- the only actual evidence of a possible crime-- was only held 10 days before he was given house arrest.

Humberto served two and a half years in prison awaiting trial. Under Honduran law that limits imprisonment while awaiting trial he had to be freed, but nonetheless, the Public Prosecutor's office opposed freeing him.

It is worth celebrating the release of one more of Honduras's political prisoners, even if it is only on procedural grounds and even though he still faces the meritless charge  of terrorism.

But it is also a reminder that the he de facto regime's persecution of those who opposed it continues to fester in the Honduran legal system.

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