Guatemala: Free Indigenous River Defender Bernardo Caal Xol
"Why am I in jail? For denouncing what they are doing to the rivers, defending what little is left?"
These are the words of Bernardo Caal Xol, a Maya Q'eqchi' teacher who was chosen by his people to try to stop destructive dam projects.
In 2015, Maya Q´eqchi´communities found out that two dams had been approved that would impact the environment vital to their survival. Dam construction stripped their forests and diverted their sacred river, leaving the communities without water.
At his people's request, Bernardo voiced their opposition and made a legal challenge against the dams for violating Indigenous rights.
In response, Bernardo was publicly smeared and accused of being a criminal. He was arrested and a judge sentenced him to more than seven years in prison, without any evidence.
Speaking up for water, forests and Indigenous rights is no crime. Bernardo is being punished for protecting the environment that is essential for his people and for future generations.
Please act now to demand Bernardo's immediate release.
Indigenous Peoples make up 40 percent of Guatemala's population. Since Guatemala was colonized, Indigenous Peoples have been subjected to racist, genocidal violence and the denial of their human rights. Today, Indigenous communities who speak up for their rights are frequently labeled as standing in the way of commercial development. Their leaders are threatened, attacked, and even killed to clear the way for exploitation of natural resources found in Indigenous territory. Unfounded criminal charges are a common means to paralyze peaceful, legitimate efforts to defend Indigenous rights and the environment.
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Dear Attorney General,
I am deeply troubled that Maya Q'eqchi' defender Bernardo Caal Xol has been imprisoned since January 2018 on unfounded charges, convicted without evidence, and repeatedly denied scheduled appeal hearings. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he is at grave risk of contagion in jail.
Bernardo Caal Xol is a prisoner of conscience. He committed no crime. He is a teacher, trade unionist and defender of human rights. His legitimate, peaceful efforts should be respected not criminalized.
I call on you to:
-Immediately release Bernardo Caal Xol from unjust incarceration because there is no evidence that he has committed any crime.
-Undertake a full, prompt and impartial investigation into this miscarriage of justice and ensure appropriate sanctions for the authorities responsible.
-Stop misuse of the justice system to unjustly detain people who peacefully defend human rights, land, Indigenous territory and the environment.
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I await news of your action.