Honduran leader asked to respect media as he begins second term

As Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández prepares to be sworn in tomorrow for a second term, after an election marked by grave attacks against journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges him to respect the media and to take concrete steps to protect journalists.

President Hernández’s first term saw a constant increase in violence against the media, impunity for crimes of violence against journalists and government manoeuvres designed to obstruct independent and opposition journalists.

The elections on 26 November were marred by allegations of serious fraud that led to many opposition protests. In the ensuing tension, the authorities have cracked down hard on many journalists as well as demonstrators, and many attempts to censor independent and opposition media outlets have been reported.

President Hernandez and his new administration must, as a matter of priority, improve the safety of journalists by providing the National Protection Mechanism for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders with the resources it needs to deal with the reality of the dangers in Honduras,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.

The Honduran authorities must also end the impunity for crimes against journalists and restore a climate of trust in the media. If no courageous decision is taken at the start of this new presidential term, media freedom and democracy will inevitably continue their downward spiral.

Arrests and violence during protests

RSF has registered many cases of violence and abuses against Honduran journalists, mostly by members of the security forces, especially the Public Order Military Police (PMOP) and the army.

Josué Neptalí Rubí Corrales, the producer of the Telesur news programme Notivoz Estelar, was arrested by the army as he was covering a peaceful demonstration in the southern city of Nacaome on 11 December, and was detained for nearly 12 hours. Televida journalist Kevin Castillo was beaten up by soldiers and his camera was smashed to pieces in the southern city of Choluteca on 5 January,

Cesar Silva, Rony Martínez, José Flores and Pedro Amador of Une TV, Claudia Mendoza of Univisión’s Primer Impacto programme and Gerson Maldonado of TV Azteca were beaten by soldiers and their equipment was smashed in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on 12 January. A teargas grenade fired by the PMOPbroke the leg of Dassaev Aguilar Moncada of Hispan TV (an Iranian news channel) in Tegucigalpa on 20 January.

According to the Mesa de Derechos Humanos, a coalition of around 30 Honduran NGOs, at least 33 demonstrators were killed, 1,350 were arrested arbitrarily, 232 were injured and at least nine human rights defenders and 11 journalists were attacked from 26 November go 18 January.

Smear campaigns and threats

The past few weeks have also seen smear and hate campaigns against journalists on social networks. The targets have included ten reputable journalists known for criticizing the authorities: Gilda Silvestrucci of Radio Globo, Dasaev Aguilar Moncada of Hispan TV, Rony Martínez, Cesar Silva, Ivis Alvarado, Mauricio Rivera, Edgardo Castro and Jorge Aldana of UneTV, Ariel D. Vicente of Prensa Libre and Jairo Lopez of Canal 21 (who was the target of a similar campaign last year).

Their photos and the names of their media outlets, together with a message saying “Discover the murderers who incite violence and hate” have circulated widely on Facebook and other social media. Human rights and free speech defenders such as C-Libre director Eddy Tabora have also been the targets of these posts.

A complaint was filed with the department of public prosecutions on 18 January but no investigation has been initiated.

The National Commission for Human Rights in Honduras (CONADEH) has registered many cases of journalists receiving anonymous phone calls or threats urging them to stop providing coverage of the current political situation in Honduras.

On 21 January, the CONADEH address a formal request to the Honduran state, asking it “to investigate these threats, identify those responsible and bring them to justice as quickly as possible” and to provide journalists with emergency protection.

RSF has asked the Honduran authorities to reinforce the National Protection Mechanism on many occasions, including during a visit to Honduras in October. The same request was reiterated in a joint statement on 19 January by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN High Commission for Human Rights that voiced great concern about the increase in harassment and threats against journalists in the wake of the elections.

Boycott and expulsion

Three foreign freelance journalists – Reed Lindsay from the US, Fahema Abdel Hafiz Sokaika from the UK and Edward Philip Augustin from New Zealand – were denied entry on arrival on 4 December at Tegucigalpa’s Toncontin international airport, where they had to spend 24 hours before being expelled. All three had come to do stories about the social and economic situation.

Father Ismael Moreno, the director of Honduran radio station Radio Progreso, reported that its operations were sabotaged after it provided coverage of the protests taking place all over the country.

Honduras is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 26.01.2018