Honduran court convicts seven of killing environmental activist

Caceres reported receiving death threats and her family alleges hydroelectric company officials’ involvement.

Berta Caceres
A man holds a sign with the portrait of Caceres that reads 'We demand justice and punishment' [Fernando Antonio/AP]

A Honduran court has found seven people guilty of the murder of prize-winning indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres in 2016, while acquitting an eighth suspect in the case that has drawn international attention.

In a unanimous ruling released on Thursday, three judges found that Elvin Rapalo, Henry Hernandez, Edilson Duarte and Oscar Galeas carried out the killing of Caceres, who was shot inside her home in La Esperanza in western Honduras, one year after winning the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership against a dam project.

They face up to 30 years in prison for the murder conviction. Their sentencing is scheduled for January 10.

The judges issued guilty verdicts on lesser charges for army officer Mariano Diaz, former soldier Douglas Bustillo and Sergio Rodriguez, a manager of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which Caceres had opposed. Emerson Duarte, Edilson’s brother, was acquitted. He had been accused of covering up the crime.

The ruling did not satisfy Caceres’ family, which wants those behind the killing to be prosecuted as well.

‘Lowest link’

WATCH: Berta Caceres murder trial to begin despite family’s doubts (2:21)

Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who was the executive president of DESA – the company leading the construction work – when Caceres was killed, has been accused by prosecutors of organising the logistics of the killing. He is in prison awaiting trial.

The company has said Castillo and its other employees were “totally unconnected” to the murder.

Friends, family, activists and members of Caceres’ Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras demonstrated outside the court.

“We’re going for them … Capture the intellectual authors of this crime,” the protesters shouted.

Her organisation released a statement saying the latest ruling only affects “the lowest link in the criminal structure”.

“We regret that the actions so far have not been directed against those who ordered the death of Berta or those who paid for her murder,” said Omar Menjivar, a lawyer for Caceres’ family.

Activists held up a banner reading “The Atala are missing”, a reference to the Atala Zablah family, shareholders of DESA, which protesters accuse of being behind the actions against Caceres.

Caceres had reported receiving death threats and her family said there was a collusion between the company and the state security forces.

The Honduran government has been under an immense global pressure for justice in the case in a country where impunity runs high.

Source: AP