Honduras court finds military officials not guilty for Zelaya removal

[JURIST] Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] President Jorge Rivera on Tuesday exonerated six military leaders accused of abuse of power for removing former president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from the country last June. Rivera found [Honduras Weekly report] that the leaders did not intend to harm Zelaya and that his removal was necessary in order to preserve the peace. The Supreme Court had charged [JURIST report] the commanders - head of the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces Romeo Vasquez, deputy head of the Joint Chiefs Venancio Cervantes, Inspector General Carlos Cuellar, Commandant of the Army Miguel Garcia, Commandant of the Navy Juan Rodriguez, and Commandant of the Air Force Luis Javier Prince - last week and ordered them to remain in the country until after the court had reached its decision. The charges were filed when prosecutors argued [JURIST report] to the court that the military commanders violated the Honduran Constitution [text, in Spanish] when they seized Zelaya and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. If they had been convicted, the military leaders could have faced up to six years in prison. Also Tuesday, the Honduran National Congress [official website, in Spanish] approved amnesty for both Zelaya and the military.

Tuesday's ruling comes the day before Porfirio Lobo is scheduled to be sworn into office as president and Zelaya is expected to leave the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras. Last month, congress voted 111-14 not to reinstate [JURIST report] Zelaya. This followed a non-binding advisory opinion from the Supreme Court that Zelaya could not legally return to office [JURIST report]. Zelaya was ousted [JURIST report] in June, following a judicial order [press release, in Spanish] asserting that he had broken Honduran law by attempting to conduct a controversial referendum on constitutional reform [JURIST report], contrary to a Supreme Court ruling. Zelaya, along with the US, the UN, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the European Union, maintain that his removal was a coup, while the interim government of Roberto Micheletti asserts that it was a lawful transition of power.

 

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