A Peruvian court on Thursday, April 11, sentenced five men to nearly 30 years in prison for the 2014 assassination of four indigenous leaders who were fighting against illegal logging in a border area between Peru and Brazil.

Judge Karina Bedoya Maque, of the Ucayali Criminal Court, in the town of Pucallpa, sentenced the brothers Josimar and Segundo Atachi, as well as José Carlos Estrada, Hugo Soria and Eurico Mapes to 28 years and 3 months of imprisonment as of “co-perpetrators of aggravated homicide”. The prosecution had requested 35 years in prison for each of the accused.

The four indigenous leaders were assassinated in front of members of their community on September 1, 2014. Their assassination triggered a wave of criticism against the Peruvian authorities for the lack of attention paid to their requests for protection and assistance in the defense of forests against logging.

54 environmental defenders killed in Peru since 2012

The families of the leader of the community of Saweto, an indigenous community located at the source of the Tamaya River, in the Ucayali region, in northeastern Peru, and of the late leaders Edwin Chota, Jorge Rios, Leoncio Quintisima and Francisco Pinedo , hope that this conviction will serve as a precedent for the protection of indigenous leaders and environmental defenders. Edwin Chota was recognized in Peru and in the international media for his investment in the defense of the Amazonian forests. According to the NGO Global Witness, at least 54 environmental defenders have been killed in Peru since 2012, more than half of whom belonged to indigenous groups.

“I am happy with the sentence. It’s a ten-year achievement,” Lita Rojas, 47, widow of Amazonian leader Leoncio Quintisima, who arrived in Pucallpa after a two-day journey by river and road from the community, told Agence France-Presse of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, on the border with Brazil.

“Justice has been served! No more impunity for the murderers of environmental defenders,” declared the NGO Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) on the social network rivers, long live Saweto,” said natives outside the courthouse.

The trial opened in November 2023. The defendants were sentenced in February 2023 to 28 years in prison each. But in August of the same year, the judgment was overturned and a new trial was ordered due to “irregularities” in a witness’s statement.

In recent years, mafias specializing in illegal logging in the Amazon have entered areas under indigenous control to extract timber and carry out their activities by threatening local communities.