Attempts by Honduran authorities to silence outspoken journalists
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the increasingly hostile climate for the media in Honduras and the recent series of direct or indirect attempts by the authorities to silence outspoken journalists. TV presenter Ariel Armando D’Vicente’s three-year jail sentence in a defamation case last month is particularly worrying.
Honduras is one of Latin America’s most dangerous countries for the media. Both murders of journalists – there have been eight since the start of 2015 – and cases of censorship of various kinds are frequent. RSF has registered several grave media freedom violations in Honduras in the past six weeks alone.
The producer and presenter of the programme “Prensa Libre” on the independent Libertad TV channel, Ariel Armando D’Vicente was sentenced on 24 August to three years in prison and a three-year ban on working as a journalist for allegedly defaming Oquelí Mejía Tinoco, the former police chief of the southern department of Choluteca. D’Vicente’s lawyer has appealed.
D’Vicente reported in 2014 that Mejía and police officers under his command were involved in the illegal trafficking of cattle between Central America and Mexico in association with criminal groups.
In 2012, D’Vicente escaped a murder attempt after covering a case of embezzlement allegedly involving three members of the National Directorate for Criminal Investigation.
Juan Carlos Morales, the mayor of the central city of Siguatepeque, has meanwhile been waging a smear campaign against three local journalists since the start of August for reporting negative stories that reflect badly on him, such the increase in poverty in the municipality, at time when he want to run for reelection next year.
His main target has been Leonel Juaréz, the host of “Juaréz informa” on TV Centro, who says the mayor used every means possible to force him off the air, including media and social network campaigns to defame and discredit him, and pressure on advertisers and his family. In the end, Juaréz had no choice but to close down his programme and he now plans to leave the country to escape the threats.
Anselmo Rubio, a presenter on Libre Opinión TV, and Walter Ulloa Bueso, a programme host on Estereo Cielo, a local radio station, have also been persecuted by the mayor in a similar manner.
Milthon Robles, a journalist based in the northwestern city of San Pedro Sula, was threatened on 3 September by an individual in a car who pointed a gun at him. Two weeks before that, someone in the same car tried to run him down deliberately.
These attacks follow an investigative report by Robles on the “war tax” collected by local criminal groups known as “Maras” in which, according to Robles, local officials were implicated.
A reporter for the Criterio.hn news website, Robles is also a human rights defender, a member of the alert and protection network for journalists operated by the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre) and heads an association of “social communicators.”
“The authorities and politicians are supposed to protect journalists but only too often they are their leading oppressors,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“Ariel D’Vicente’s trial at a time of almost total impunity for crimes of violence against media personnel in Honduras is particularly ironic and speaks to the climate of hostility towards the media. In a country prey to corruption and organized crime, respecting and protecting the work of journalists is more necessary than ever.”
If upheld on appeal, D’Vicente’s sentence will be the second time in the past two years that a Honduran court has banned a journalist from working.
Julio Ernesto Alvarado, the host of the Globo TV programme “Mi Nación,” was formerly notified by the court for sentence enforcement on 29 October 2015 that he is forbidden to work as a journalist, despite a formal request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in November 2014 for the sentence to be suspended as “precautionary measure” while it examined the case.
RSF reiterates its appeal to the Honduran authorities to take account of the recommendations it received from the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in 2015 and to respect all of its obligations as a member of the Organization of American States.
Honduras is ranked 137th out of 180 counties in the RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.