The Nobel Peace Laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative called on Guatemalan authorities Thursday to immediately release Q’eqchi’ community leader and land defender Maria Magdalena Cuc Choc, who was arrested a day earlier without a warrant.
Maria Choc was providing translation services in a hearing for a Mayan Q’eqchi’ community that's protecting their land. She was arrested by the Civilian National Police as she was leaving the local tribunal in Puerto Barrios, in the Izabal department of Guatemala.
“To be honest, I'm surprised, because I didn't have any notification and I don't have problems with anybody,” said Choc in an interview with Prensa Comunitaria, adding that now you can get arrested just because “you're a good person, because you're a leader.”
Maria Choc is well known for her work defending communal lands from mining and mega-plantations. In a press release Thursday Nobel Women’s Initiative warned that local activists are “criminalized for exercising their basic right to protest and organize in response to threats posed by resource extraction to their communities.”
“The arbitrary arrest of Maria Choc is yet another reminder of the enormous injustices faced by women land defenders in Guatemala.” Several founders of the initiative had met with Maria Choc back in October while on a delegation to Guatemala.
The Nobel Women’s Initiative was established in 2006 by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, and Leymah Gbowee with the aim of using “the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and six courageous women” to “magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.”
In a addition to Nobel Women’s Initiative, several human rights organizations have called for her release, including the communitary television network Red Tz'ikin, the Guatemalan Human Rights Women Defenders Network and the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, as well as several local and international organizations and individuals.
After being dettained, Maria Choc was informed by the local prosecutor's office that she was facing accusations for aggraviated seizure, threats and illegal dettention, along with other community activists Luis Xol Caal and Antonio Asp Pop.
The charges were placed by the legal representative of LISBAL company, which is supposedly the owner of the Isabel ranch in Livingston, Izabal, and is also asking for the removal of the whole community.
Maria and her sister Angelica have been long-time defenders of communal Indigenous land. Angelica's husband, Adolfo Ich Chaman was assasinated by Colonel Mynor Padilla, chief of security services for the Guatemalean Nickel Company in 2009.
They also supported the suing of Canadian HudBay Minerals and HMI Nickel, which demanded the evacuation of a whole Q'eqchi' community in a violent action that resulted in the rape of eleven Mayan women in 2011.