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Honduran Police Abuse Pandemic Powers, Local Activists Push Back

This article is part of a series featuring inspiring stories of local action #fromthefrontlines of COVID-19 in the Global South. For more, visit our COVID-19 page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Honduran government has responded to the spread of COVID-19 by imposing exceptional emergency measures, including a police-enforced curfew for the entire country until April 12. But in a country where embattled activists and advocates live in near-constant fear for their lives, the recent arrests of two human rights defender have many worried that state and local authorities will use COVID-19 as pretext to stamp out opposition to the country’s scandal-ridden president.

When police arrested activist Aleyda Huete on dubious charges at her home in southern Honduras, their message was clear: don’t question authority during a pandemic. But within hours, her allies mobilized to demand justice.

Before becoming an activist, Huete was known for making some of the best tortillas in her town. But after her granddaughter died as the result of the region’s poor health care system, she became a fierce advocate for legal reform and better public services.

As one of the leaders of Bastión del Sur, an influential collective known for innovative street protests, Huete is no stranger to police violence and surveillance. Founded in 2017 after a controversial and contested election, the grassroots group’s ultimate goal is to see Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández removed from power and brought to justice.

Shortly after Huete’s arbitrary arrest, Fund-supported group Red Hondurena de Mujeres Defensoras (the Honduran Network of Woman Defenders), together with C-Libre and Red Mesoamericana de Defensoras, issued an urgent appeal demanding her immediate release. They also contacted the advisory council of the national Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, calling for swift intervention.

Just hours later, Huete was released on bail. But since her arrest, another activist, Evelyn Castillo of the Ojojona Women’s Network, has also been arbitrarily detained and released.

Although these arrests are a troubling sign that the Honduran government is targeting local activists and political opposition, the solidarity on display as activists mobilized to free Huete provides a glimmer of hope. Through swift action, vigilance, and clear channels of communication between networks of defenders, targeted activists can still support and safeguard each other.

In this critical moment for human rights in Honduras, the Fund is proud to stand in solidarity with courageous defenders like Aleyda Huete and Evelyn Castillo. By providing flexible support to our local partners, we’re helping them curtail abuses of power and enabling defenders to preserve their right to stand up and speak out.