Illegally cut logs on the bank of the Putaya River between the Ashaninka Indian communities of Saweto and Puerto Putaya in Peru. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP
Victims – among them environmental defender Edwin Chota – were tortured before their deaths in Peruvian Amazon in 2014
Five illegal loggers in Peru have been given 28-year jail sentences for the murder of four Indigenous leaders, among them the prominent anti-logging campaigner Edwin Chota, in a rare win for environmental justice.
Nearly eight years after the 2014 quadruple murder, a court in Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon found the loggers, Eurico Mapes Gómez and the brothers Segundo and Josimar Atachi Félix, guilty of aggravated homicide against the leaders, and sentenced them on Thursday to 28 years and three months in prison.
The court imposed the same sentence against Hugo Soria Flores and José Estrada Huayta, the timber businessmen convicted of planning the murder – one of the most notorious crimes against environmental defenders in Peru’s recent history.
The judge said the victims – Chota, Leoncio Quintisima, Jorge Ríos and Francisco Piñedo – were tortured before they were killed near Peru’s Amazon border with Brazil.
Chota, the leader of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, an Ashéninka community in Peru’s Amazon Ucayali region, fought for his people’s right to gain titles to their land and expel illegal loggers who raided their forests on the Brazilian border. He was featured in reports by National Geographic and the New York Times that detailed how death threats were made against him and other members of his community.
At the time of the crime, the four Indigenous people were on their way to the Apiwtxa community, also of Ashéninka ethnicity, located on the other side of the border in the Brazilian state of Acre.
“We are happy [about the jail sentences] after so many years of struggle and many threats,” Lita Rojas, 48, the widow of Leoncio Quintisima, told the Guardian by phone from the remote village. The native community was finally awarded a formal land title of nearly 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres) in July 2015.
“The long-awaited verdict serves as a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by environmental defenders and the need for greater protection of their rights,” said Shruti Suresh, land environment defenders campaign leader at Global Witness.
“We welcome the news of the conviction of those responsible for the killings of Indigenous land and environmental leaders in Peru in this horrific case, which shows the importance of continuing to fight for justice many years on,” Suresh added.
More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world over the past decade, according to Global Witness.
During the Covid pandemic, the number of attacks on environmental defenders and Indigenous leaders increased, particularly in 2021, when 78% of recorded killings of defenders took place in the Amazon regions of Brazil, Peru and Venezuela.
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