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Honduras: Rule of law and civil liberties founder in year since coup

June 28, 2010

Reporters Without Borders, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre) have decided to issue a joint statement on the first anniversary of the 28 June 2009 coup d’état, an event that has done an almost unprecedented degree of harm to fundamental rights and freedoms, especially the right to receive and impart news and information, and has given Honduras an abysmal press freedom ranking.

Two periods can be distinguished. The first – from President Manuel Zelaya’s ouster by the army until Porfirio Lobo Sosa’s installation as his successor on 27 January – was marked by acts of censorship against media opposed to the coup, including sabotage, use of violence and military occupation.

The targeted media included Canal 36 Cholusat TV, Radio Globo, Radio Progreso, Radio Uno and community media such as the Afro-Honduran radio station Faluma Bimetu (Radio Coco Dulce), which was badly damaged by an arson attack on 6 January and has been rebuilt with help from our three organisations.

The foreign media were also the victims of acts of censorship and sabotage that began in the first few hours after the coup, and around ten foreign journalists working for such different media as CNN Español and Telesur were deported.

The second post-coup period, from the new president’s inauguration until now, has been marked above all by the murder of the following eight journalists in the past four months:

- Joseph Ochoa, Canal 51 TV, 1 March
- David Meza Montesinos, Abriendo Brecha TV and radio El Patio, 11 March
- Nahúm Palacios, Televisora de Aguán - Canal 5, 14 March
- Bayardo Mairena, Canal 4 TV, 26 March
- Manuel Juárez, Radio Excélsior, 26 March
- Luis Antonio Chévez, radio W105, 11 April
- Georgino Orellana, Televisión de Honduras, 20 April
- Luis Arturo Mondragón, Canal 19 TV, 14 June

To this list must be added human rights activists such as Walter Tróchez, who was kidnapped and murdered in December. It is possible that none of these murders was linked to the political violence that Honduras has been experiencing for the past year. But there is no justification for the position of the authorities, which is to immediately and systematically rule out any possibility of the two being linked.

Palacios, for example, reported prior to his death that he had been repeatedly harassed by the army. Orellana took a risk when he decided to stop working for his previous employers, La Prensa and Televicentro, on editorial grounds. Both of these media supported the coup. Ochoa was killed in a shooting attack in which the target for her support to the coup was fellow journalist Karol Cabrera of Canal 8 TV, who fled to Canada afterwards.

How is it possible to deny the continuing existence of political violence against the media after the extraordinary raid that was carried out on 3 June by soldiers and policemen against La Voz de Zacate Grande, a newly-created community radio station that was acting as the mouthpiece of a rural community embroiled in a dispute with agro-industrial magnate Miguel Facussé?

How are we to interpret Retired General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez’s appointment to be the head of the state-owned telecommunications company Hondutel on 8 March, when it was Vásquez who introduced censorship immediately after the coup? What are we to make of the government’s silence after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it must protect Radio Progreso’s director, Ismael Moreno, and its journalists, who have received death threats?

Honduras’ readmission to the Organisation of American States, from which it was suspended a year ago, depends on the current government’s willingness to respond in a concrete manner to this critical situation. Until now, the authorities have just continued to act in the spirit of the coup. In the areas that concern us, we three organisations request:

- That an independent civilian commission of enquiry formed with OAS support is able, without obstruction, to monitor the investigations into the murders and attacks on journalists during the first six months of 2010, and to monitor compliance with the protective measures that have been requested for journalists and news media.

- That this initiative results in the creation of genuinely protective mechanisms for journalists and news media and in investigations that result in the arrests of those responsible for the murders and attacks on journalists and news media and an end to the impunity for such crimes.

- That the seized media equipment is inventoried and returned to the news media that have been the victims of military occupation since 28 June 2009.

- That an inventory is carried out of all the broadcast frequencies in use and the system for assigning frequencies is reorganised on the basis of democratic criteria that guarantee plurality and diversity for commercial, public and community media.

- That Honduran legislation governing access to information, free expression offences, and media diversity and pluralism are adapted without delay to international legal standards and to the framework of the American Convention on Human Rights.

For more information contact:
Reporters without Borders
Phone: 33 1 44 83 84 84

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