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Simcoe County family fights for son living in 'inhumane' Honduran prison

It's been one year since Edwin Espinal was arrested. He's still in a max-security prison with no access to clean water, and he hasn't had a trial

One year after the husband of an Elmvale native was arrested at gunpoint in his home country of Honduras he remains in prison, still “awaiting a trial.”

There is less of Edwin Espinal now. He’s lost about 50 pounds, according to his family. And an untreated ear infection has left him deaf in one ear. More frustrating for his Canadian family, is their pleas on his behalf falling on the deaf ears of Honduran, US, and Canadian authorities.

Janet Spring is an Emlvale resident and Espinal’s mother-in-law. Spring’s daughter, Karen, and Espinal were married in a ceremony in La Tolva military prison on Oct. 18, 2018.

Janet Spring has been working toward justice for Espinal and other political prisoners in Honduras since his arrest on Jan. 19, 2018.

Espinal was arrested after participating in city-wide protests. The people took to the streets in the aftermath of what was, at best, a questionable election and, at worst, blatant criminal corruption in Honduras in November 2017. The protests continued into 2018 and Espinal was arrested. Other Hondurans were killed by police during the protest. Many were arrested and put in prison. Some remain there “awaiting trial” without trial dates.

Janet Spring formed the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor group to advocate for the prisoners. She’s been travelling to Honduras where she meets with Canadian and US ambassadors to the country. She’s also made several trips to Ottawa, some with her daughter and Espinal’s wife, Karen, where they try to meet with politicians and human rights activists.

But Espinal remains in prison with no trial date set, and no help from Canada’s Global Affairs office.

John Spring, Karen’s father, wrote a letter in response to the Canadian Government responding quickly to the plea of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi teen who asked for sanctuary after she said she escaped from her family and feared for her life. Canada’s minister of global affairs Chrystia Freeland greeted Mohammed at the airport. The Canadian government fast-tracked her refugee claim and Mohammed was granted emergency resettlement.

“After almost one year, seven trips to Ottawa, working closely with our MP Bruce Stanton, who I might add has been a tremendous help, the best we have been able to do is have meetings with Minister Freeland’s top aid,” wrote John Spring. “Forgive me if I sound bitter.”

A request for an interview with Minister Freeland by CollingwoodToday was returned with emailed responses to questions included in the interview request.

The responses were sent by Brittany Fletcher, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.

“Canada is following the human rights situation in Honduras,” said Fletcher in the email. “Although the ability of Canada to provide direct assistance to Honduran nationals such as Mr. Edwin Espinal is limited, we will continue to advocate for due process and the protection of human rights in Honduras.”

Fletcher further stated Embassy of Canada officials have visited prisons, and the Global Affairs Canada Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas “raised the issue with the Minister of Foreign Affairs during a recent trip to Honduras.”

“With respect to Hondurans who have been arrested and detained during the post-electoral protests, Canada continues to call for the application of due process and respect for human rights,” states Fletcher.

But the Spring family, and human rights workers in Honduras working toward justice for Espinal and others imprisoned after the protests say there is neither application of due process, nor respect for human rights.

Espinal is imprisoned at La Tolva, a military-run, high-security prison. He was kept in solitary confinement for 15 days, and it was several months before the prison allowed any visitors in. Karen Spring, the legal wife of Espinal, still has trouble getting into the prison to see her husband.

Espinal has been sick and a doctor declared him malnourished. Still, the only way he could receive nourishing food was for a family member to bring it to him in prison, and visits are only permitted on rare occasions. Janet Spring said it appears visits are permitted on the whim of the prison’s management.

Espinal’s ear infection was diagnosed on Dec. 23. His wife was not allowed in the prison with the antibiotics. She left them there (it took two visits for them to take the meds from her), but Espinal didn’t receive his medication until Jan. 13. By then, he had lost hearing in one ear.

Amnesty International investigated the prison and said the conditions were unsanitary and inhumane.

A drought has caused a water shortage in Honduras – another factor pushing Honduran refugees toward the US/Mexico border. The water given to the prisoners is limited, brown, and opaque.

Janet, who is returning to Elmvale today from her last trip to Honduras, said she asked Espinal about the prison conditions on one of her recent visits.

He told her there are nine men per three-by-nine-metre cell, and they share one toilet. They are given enough water to flush the toilet once per day. So they eat their meals and spend their days sitting next to raw sewage.

Janet said Espinal told her there is nothing to do, no books or magazines, no pens or writing materials, and not enough seats in the common area for the men to sit down. The prisoners are given two hours of outdoor time per month. The common area is shared with prisoners convicted of violent crimes.

Karina Flores is a front-line human rights worker. According to Janet Spring, Flores was able to visit a prisoner module and the smell of the place nearly made her vomit immediately.

“That’s what kind of conditions they live in,” said Janet.

The United Nations sets out basic principles for the treatment of prisoners in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One principle requires prisoners to have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination, another principle states all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Among those rights and freedoms is right to a fair public hearing, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty,

Meanwhile, the Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said the government is “pleased with the recent decision by Honduran authorities to release pre-trial detainees deemed to be low risk.”

There will be a meeting hosted by the Simcoe County Honduran Rights Monitor and Janet Spring at the Elmvale Community Hall on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. The meeting will include a skype call from Karen Spring in Honduras and an update on Espinal’s condition and what the group and Janet are doing to press for justice on his behalf. If you are interested in learning more about Espinal’s situation or the work of the Simcoe County Honduran Rights Monitor group, there will be information on both at the meeting.

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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