In a chapel with bare walls and armed prison guards, an Elmvale woman married the man she loves. Then he returned to his cell and she to her home.
There was no wedding dress, and the mother-of-the-bride wasn’t allowed to attend. The bride and groom wore t-shirts, and the guests were human rights lawyers, an activist, and a fellow prisoner.
Karen Spring, of Elmvale, Ontario, married Edwin Espinal, on Oct. 18, 2018. He is a political prisoner, incarcerated at La Tolva military prison for the last nine months. He was arrested after participating in city-wide protests. The people took to the streets in the aftermath of what was, at best, a questionable election and, at worst, blatant criminal corruption in Honduras in November 2017. The protests continued into 2018 and Espinal was arrested. Other Hondurans were killed by police during the protest. Since then, a mass exodus of Hondurans toward the US border has made international media as people take their chance at an unfriendly US border to get away from an oppressive and often violent government.
Karen Spring first travelled to Honduras for research into the working conditions at Canadian-owned gold mines. She has stayed as a human rights activist for the Honduras Solidarity Network, and was with Espinal the day he was arrested - January 19, 2018.
Espinal has not yet been convicted of any crimes. His incarceration is pre-trial detention. There were approximately 21 political prisoners detained after widespread arrests of protesters. Many have since been released, though legal proceedings against them continue.
For the first few months of Espinal’s imprisonment, he was not allowed any visitors. It took a mother’s determination to break through the wall of masked, armed guards and indifferent bureaucrats. Janet Spring travelled to Honduras with a delegation from Canada, and was eventually allowed in to see Espinal. Since then, Karen has had better “luck” getting visitor passes. She brings Espinal food as often as she is allowed. He has lost about 45 pounds, according to Janet, due to poor nutrition, dangerously bad water quality, rampant illness in the prison, and abject living conditions as detailed in an Amnesty International report written by a delegate who toured La Tolva and met with Espinal.
A few weeks before the wedding (Sept. 30) there was an uprising inside La Tolva prison and two men died, seven were seriously injured. Since the family is not notified, Karen Spring went to the nearest hospital in search of news. There, a guard recognized her and told her Espinal was unharmed.
While many brides spend the weeks leading up to their wedding planning colours, place settings, and bouquets, Spring spent her time travelling to government offices, embassies, and Espinal’s birth town to line up a slew of documentation and overcome painstaking delays.
In Canada, Janet Spring arranged things like an RCMP criminal background check for Karen, which had to be hand-delivered to Ottawa for validation by Global Affairs. On the Honduran side, Prisila Alvaredo, a human rights lawyer helped fight for Karen’s rights to marry Espinal.
Karen has since applied for residency, and has asked for an extension on her current visitor’s visa. She has been told the government will not allow her back into Honduras once she leaves. Her visa has been extended to Nov. 24.
The Springs are not strangers to the winding road of embassies, government agencies, and travel documents. Since Espinal’s arrest, they have been actively calling on Canadian, Honduran, and US officials to step in and free Espinal and the other political prisoners arrested during the protests. Amnesty International is also involved on Espinal’s behalf.
The witnesses at Espinal and Spring's wedding were Prisilla Alvarado, a Honduran lawyer with the Committee for the release of Political Prisoners; Mery Agurcia from the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); Raul Alvarez, another political prisoner at La Tolva arrested at the same time as Espinal; Grahame Russell of the organization Rights Action; and Karena Flores, also from the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners.
In Elmvale, those who know Karen – and now many more who have heard her story – have formed the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor, where they organize a Canadian effort to advocate for Espinal, Alvarez and other prisoner’s rights and demand their release.
There is an online petition here, calling for freedom for political prisoners. The petition closes on Feb. 7 and is sponsored by Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Alex Nuttall. The petition requires 500 signatures for Nutall to present it to the House of Commons.
Later this week, Kathy Price from Amnesty Canada will be speaking at the Explorer’s Cafe in Midland as a guest speaker for Peaceworks. She has met with Karen in Tegucigalpa, Honduras earlier this month and will be speaking on human rights abuses in Honduras. The session takes place on Nov. 1 at noon, and the cost is $20. Tickets are available at the cafe or by calling Lois Williamson at 705-526-5238.
There's more action items included on the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor website for those looking to help Espinal, Alvarez and the other political prisoners.
As pressure mounts from inside Honduras, and from Canada and the US, there is hope for Espinal and Alvarez’ release. The Springs hope to have a united family soon.