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Human Rights: The Case of Jhony Salgado in Honduras

Trócaire, along with several other human rights organisations, is calling for a fair trial for Jhony Salgado when the trial begins in the coming weeks. Jhony, a construction worker from El Progreso, is a victim of police brutality and a flawed judicial process that seeks to criminalise his involvement in a protest, in which - as the evidence shows - he did not even participate. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Neighbours hugging Jhony after four months in pretrial detention at the El Progreso prison Photo Credit: Radio Progreso Neighbours hugging Jhony after four months in pretrial detention at the El Progreso prison Photo Credit: Radio Progreso

On December 21, 2017, Jhony Salgado, a married father of two, was illegally detained at his home after Honduran authorities falsely accused him of serious crimes including impersonating a police officer, carrying a weapon and participating in nearby protests.

Jhony was confronted by a group of police officers at his front door, who then bundled him into a car without an explanation. At the police station, he was forced to sign a false statement declaring his admission of guilt for crimes which he didn’t commit, and which would take him away from his wife and children once convicted. Through intimidation and brute force, Jhony was forced to pose with a gun and police armour for the media to make the statement more believable.

Honduran authorities claim that Jhony committed these crimes but evidence from the night of the arrest shows he wasn’t even at the protest. He was at home with his wife and children, sheltering from the commotion of the nearby demonstrations.

Punishment for these crimes carries a lengthy prison term in an overcrowded Honduran prison where there is an ‘iron fist’ approach to inmates and deplorable living conditions.

Jhony is an innocent man and a victim of police brutality which is commonplace in Honduras. Violations of the right to life, personal freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to due process, including the presumption of innocence, characterise today’s human rights landscape in Honduras. Without the urgent and much-needed intervention from the international community, Jhony’s future lies in the hands of a corrupt judicial system that seeks to criminalise protestors.

Immediately after the arrest, Jhony’s wife Elena made a complaint against the police officers for breaking and entering into her property, and for abuse of authority. Regrettably, the court rejected any police wrongdoing and Jhony was sent to prison for four months. 183 complaints like Elena’s were registered with the National Commissioner for Human Rights against Honduran State and civil society organisations from across the world are calling for justice for Jhony and an end to impunity for those committing these violations.

The criminalisation of social protest is not a new phenomenon in Honduras, but the situation has worsened in recent years. Following the controversial Presidential election in 2017, thousands of Hondurans took to the streets to protest what many believed was a fraudulent election. The Honduran government imposed a curfew restricting movement, gatherings and demonstrations between 6pm and 6am for ten days. Experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations expressed their alarm at the ‘illegal and excessive use of force to dissolve protests’. Many of those detained were transferred to military premises, beaten, insulted, subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Jhony Salgado is one of 118 people who is facing criminal charges for alleged participation in crimes committed during the protest, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). To comply with the precautionary measure imposed by the judge, Jhony must pay approx. $9 each time he goes to court, which is a heavy price to pay regularly for a family with little income. In addition, he has been required to sign in every fifteen days for almost four years. This not only affects his family finances, but also makes it even more difficult for Jhony to get a permanent job because he needs to leave constantly to sign in.

The IACHR reported that, as a result of the repressive actions of the State forces, 22 people died violently. Of these 22 murdered, it was reported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that 16 people were killed by gunshots fired by security forces.

Trócaire calls for a fair trial for Jhony Salgado

The evidence used to support the charges against Jhony is pierced with inconsistencies and false claims. As the trial approaches, Trócaire along with other international human rights organisations, is calling on Members of the European Parliament, EU member states and the EU delegation to Honduras, to write to the State of Honduras demanding a fair trial for Jhony Salgado and the end of impunity for those committing human rights violations.

They are also requesting that the Supreme Court of Honduras and the Sentencing Court of El Progreso facilitate the virtual transmission of Jhony Salgado’s trial as an effective and transparent way of allowing public and qualified international observation, in accordance with international treaties and Honduran legislation.

The criminalisation of protestors is frequent in Honduras

In the 1990s, those that sought to exercise their right to protest and to express themselves freely and demanding justice became increasingly criminalised. In recent years, the trend of arbitrary detentions during protests, criminalisation of social leaders, harassment and threats towards members of social movements, and the fabrication of crimes has worsened. Between 2017 and 2021, the Honduran Public Ministry initiated a total of 31 judicial processes, affecting 225 people directly. Of these 225, 33 were held in preventive detention in maximum security prisons for periods of more than 18 months.

For Jhony and his family, the ordeal continues to have a devastating psychological impact on them. Jhony experiences continued emotional stress and anguish, and constantly fears for the safety of his family. Without the support of the international community, an innocent man’s life will be destroyed.

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