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Authorities in Honduras should ensure a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the killing of attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera, Human Rights Watch said today. Trejo, a lawyer who advocated for peasant land rights and publicly opposed the creation of special autonomous development zones, was shot and killed on September 22, 2012, after attending a wedding south of Tegucigalpa.

“Authorities need to act swiftly to bring to justice those responsible for Trejo’s murder, and send a clear message that attacks on human rights defenders will be dealt with firmly,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Trejo was shot several times at approximately 9:30 pm, just after he exited the church where the wedding had taken place. He was taken to the hospital but died shortly after arriving. The circumstances of his murder strongly suggest that it was a targeted killing and he was not a victim of common crime.

According to news reports, police have opened an investigation into Trejo’s murder.

Trejo was the lead lawyer for a peasant group in the Bajo Aguán Valley, the Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán (MARCA), which has had a longstanding territorial dispute with local landowners. More than 80 people have been killed in related violence in the valley in the last three years, according to local human rights groups.  

Trejo had received death threats on multiple occasions in June 2011, according to a report issued by various international and national nongovernmental organizations that conducted a fact-finding visit to the Bajo Aguán Valley in 2011. Trejo filed a formal complaint regarding the threats to federal authorities from the General Directorate for Criminal Investigations (la Dirección General de la Investigación Criminal), the report said.

Trejo was one of 25 people detained on August 21, 2012, while participating in a protest outside of Honduras’s Supreme Court related to land disputes in the Bajo Aguan Valley. The protesters were charged with holding an illegal protest, charges Trejo said were unfounded, and were awaiting trial.

Together with a group of lawyers, Trejo presented a constitutional challenge on September 5 to stop the creation of “special development regions” in Honduras. The proposed “model cities” would be granted special regulatory and trade conditions to promote investment, and have their own laws, police, and justice systems.

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