Motorcycle hitmen gun down Honduran reporter
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Honduran authorities to quickly identify those responsible for the murder of independent journalist Luís Almendares, and to rethink their mechanisms for protecting journalists in a country where the independent media are increasingly vulnerable.
An outspoken critic of local corruption and police violence, Almendares was shot by two hooded gunmen on a motorcycle on the evening of 27 September as he was walking to a supermarket in Comayagua, a city 80 km northwest of Tegucigalpa that is the capital of Comayagua department. After appealing for help on Facebook Live, he was rushed to a hospital in Comayagua and from there he was taken to a hospital in Tegucigalpa where he died of his injuries yesterday.
After working for national media such as Radio Globo, Patrulleros Choluteca and Unetv, Almendares created his own news page on Facebook entitled Periodista504, where his coverage of local Comayagua news, including corruption and police violence, had more than 25,000 followers.
Three days before he was shot, he posted a video showing shots being fired at the facade of a building from a police vehicle, which then drove away,
He had been repeatedly threatened and intimidated in connection with his reporting, in particular, in April 2018, March 2019 and in June 2020, according to C-Libre, a Honduran NGO that defends freedom of expression. In the latest instance, several members of the Comayagua chamber of commerce pressured him to reveal his sources for a report that reflected badly on the chamber.
When reached by RSF, the National Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists said it had not received any specific complaint or request for protection from Almendares.
“The Honduran authorities must lose no time in identifying the perpetrators and instigators of this execution-style murder, and should prioritize the hypothesis that it was linked to the victim’s reporting,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“The endless spiral of violence against the Honduran press has to be brought to an end. How many journalists need to be murdered before the authorities react, by reinforcing their mechanism for protecting journalists and by establishing a lasting plan for combatting impunity for these crimes?”
Violence against the press is endemic in Honduras. According to C-Libre, Almendares is the 85th journalist, media worker or media owner to be murdered in Honduras since 2001 and the third since the start of 2020, following Germán Gerardo Vallecillo and Jorge Posas, who worked for 45TV.
At least two Honduran journalists, Gabriel Hernández and Edgar Joel Aguilar, were murdered last year in connection with their work. In none of these cases has any significant progress been reported in the investigation. The National Commission for Human Rights (CONADEH) says more than 91% of the murders of journalists have gone unpunished.
The impunity also encourages other kinds of abuse. Wilmer Montoya, a reporter for 45TV and correspondent for Canal 6 TV, and Fernando Lanza, a journalist with Litoral Atlantico TV, were badly beaten by police in the north coast city of La Ceiba on 27 September when they went to a police station to get information. Their camera and phones were also destroyed by the police, who said the journalists had failed to comply with public health measures imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Santiago López, a presenter on Hable Como Habla (HCH) television in the western town of Santa Rosa de Copán, has received death threats from the local policeand has been the target of intimidation campaigns since the start of the year.
Honduras is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.