On January 25, an Ecuadorean court could convict Manuela Pacheco and Manuel Trujillo, activists who oppose a hydroelectric project in Bolivar province, of terrorism. If convicted, they face up to 8 years in prison.

Pacheco and Trujillo are accused of participating in violent incidents during a protest in August 2012 against the project, which they believe would severely limit their community’s access to water. The accusation is based on medical records of injured policemen, and police reports and officials’ testimony that claim Pacheco, 43, and Trujillo, 47, led the protest. According to the testimony of the accused and other witnesses, Pacheco was home and Trujillo was harvesting oranges at the time of the protest.

Although there is no single definition of terrorism in international law, the term should only be used for the gravest crimes of political violence. Terrorism charges should certainly not be used to prosecute demonstrators who are simply alleged to have carried out acts of public disorder or simple violent crimes committed while protesting against the government.

Nonetheless, in recent years, prosecutors and judges in Ecuador have used charges of “terrorism” and “sabotage” in the criminal code against anti-government protesters, applying broad and overly vague definitions of both crimes that did not meet the internationally recognized principle of legality, which requires that crimes must be precisely defined in law.

A new criminal code came into force in August 2014, after prosecutors had already brought the charges against Pacheco and Trujillo under the old legal framework. The new code narrows the vague definitions of both offenses, and states that judges should “apply the most favorable law.” Yet, a year and a half after the law was changed, prosecutors and judges continue to move forward with the terrorism prosecutions against Pacheco and Trujillo based on a law that no longer exists, for acts that would not be considered terrorism under current law. This open disregard for basic human rights principles is appalling and needs to be exposed internationally.