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Indigenous land defender freed by court after two years in prison

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Twitter photo by Yo soy Abelino.

Last week, Indigenous Maya Q'eqchi' land defender Abelino Chub Caal was found innocent in a Guatemalan court of trumped up charges that have kept him in jail for more than two years.

Chub was on trial for defending unceded Maya Q'eqchi' territory from powerful business interests. He has worked with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation for the past ten years defending this territory from agribusiness, hydroelectric and mining companies, notably the Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN) mining company.On April 26, Judge Gervi Sical stated in Guatemala City courtroom, "This Court, unanimously, acquits of all the charges."

La Hora reports, "The Higher Risk Court A, composed of Yassmin Barrios, Gervi Sical and Patricia Bustamante, declared Abelino Chub Caal, known as a human rights defender and community leader in [the municipality of] El Estor [in the department/province of] Izabal, not guilty."

Those in the courtroom applauded the verdict.

Prensa Libre reports, "Afterwards he was congratulated with hugs and smiles by his relatives, friends and neighbors of Izabal, who traveled and stayed in the city during the trial that began on April 22."

Chub had been accused of inciting community members to set fire to the palm oil crop at the Plan Grande estate on August 7, 2016, as well as unlawful association for acting as a mediator when the police moved to evict 350 people from the El Murciélago estate in October 2016.

Al Jazeera has explained, "Plantations of oil palm, also known as African palm, are taking over large swaths of southwestern and northeastern Guatemala, including the Alta Verapaz, Izabal, and Peten departments home to Q'eqchi' communities."

That article adds, "The oil extracted from the palm fruits is used for biofuel and in all kinds of household products, from ice cream and instant noodles to lipstick and detergents."

On February 4, 2017, Chub was arrested and placed in arbitrary detention. One year later, on May 8, 2018, Judge Claudette Dominguez formally charged Chub with "aggravated land grabbing", "arson", and "illicit association".

Actionaid has commented, "Judge Dominguez has a record of imprisoning indigenous leaders on baseless charges and favoring the rich and powerful."

In terms of the charges against Chub, PubliNews Guatemala explains, "[The prosecution stated] that on August 7, 2016, he had addressed a group of people who covered their faces and entered [Plan Grande] farm located in El Estor, in Izabal."

La Hora adds, "The companies Inversiones Cobra S.A. and CXI S.A., together with the Public Prosecutor's Office, accused him of being a member of a group that invaded Plan Grande estate in El Estor, Izabal, and of the burning of African palm in the property."

Prensa Comunitaria highlights, "He was accused by the [agribusiness and plantation] company Inversiones Cobra SA and CXI SA property of the Arriaza family in El Estor, Izabal."

In court on April 22, Chub's lawyer questioned, "How can Abelino be charged with illegal land occupation if the land belongs to the Indigenous Maya Q'eqchi' community?"

Furthermore, Prensa Libre notes, "During the trial [Chub] was able to show that he was in [the city of] Sololá [more than 300 kilometres west of El Estor] that day."

After the ruling that found Chub innocent of all charges, the land defender stated, "The fight goes on, not a step backwards."

Then almost 24 hours later, he was freed from jail.

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project was present at the trial of Chub on April 24 and April 26.

Brent Patterson is the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada, a political activist, and a writer. 

Photo: Yo soy Abelino/Twitter

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