SOCIEDAD INTERAMERICANA DE PRENSA
Information by Country:
Freedom of expression continues at risk in Honduras, as there exist threats, intimidations and attacks not only on news media but on individual journalists. In addition, there is the impunity that surrounds the murder of five journalists in this period since the Aruba Midyear Meeting. To date the government has not solved the crimes and the masterminds and perpetrators remain unidentified.
In the case of David Meza, murdered on March 11, those identified by the authorities were released for lack of evidence. In the case of Jorge Alberto Orellano murder, committed on April 20, one of those allegedly involved is in prison. The other murders continue to go unpunished.
In this period one attempt was made on the life of a reporter, eight were assaulted, two received death threats, attacks were reported on the buildings of three news media outlets, and the government withdrew the license of a television channel.
In addition, noteworthy has been the reluctance of government agencies to render an account of the planning, use and placement of public funds.
President Porfirio Lobo’s commitment to defend freedom of the press and of expression is far from being put into effect. His administration has dealt with great indifference with murders of, assaults on, and threats to journalists, as well as attacks on news media buildings, and on that of the National Human Rights Commission (Conadeh).
The actions of the executive and legislative branches of government show a clear disregard of the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information and of court rulings on the subject.
The main developments during this period:
On August 8 journalist Mario Salinas, who hosts the program “Ante la Nación” (Before the Nation) on the San Pedro Sula television channel Canal 21, complained to a police officer that he was the victim of persecution by unidentified persons, later reporting that his complaint had not been acted on.
On August 18 journalist Nelson Joaquín Murillo of Radio América radio station was set upon by a group of people belonging to the self-styled People’s Resistance Front, supporter of former president Manuel Zelaya Rosales.
On August 19 La Tribuna news photographer Amílcar Luque reported to the National Human Rights Commission an attack upon him the day before (August 18) by members of the self-styled People’s Resistance Front. He said that taking part in the assault was Swedish citizen Dick Emanuelson, who supposedly works as correspondent of a Swedish magazine. According to Luque, when he was photographing a protest demonstration outside a hotel near the Presidential Office, Emanuelson began filming him.
On August 19 journalist Itsmania Pineda Platero, president of the organization Xibalba, Arte y Cultura, reported that she was injured by three assailants who broke into her home on Sunday, August 15 and the following day was threatened by the same individuals for having reported to officials what had happened.
On August 24 journalist Israel Zelaya Díaz, 56, who was a stringer for the program “Claro y Pelado” (Clear and Barefaced) aired by Radio Internacional radio station, was murdered in the town of Villaneva, Cortés province. Zelaya Díaz, whom colleagues and friends nicknamed “Chacatay,” was found dead with three bullet wounds to the throat and head. The District Attorney said robbery was ruled out because his documents, watch and cel phone were found in his trousers. Although the investigation was not going anywhere local police spokesman Leonel Sauceda said “the only thing that we have been able to determine in the death of journalist Israel Zelaya Díaz is that it was not due to his work as a journalist.” Zelaya had been a journalist for 30 years, mainly on radio but he also had worked for a short time in the newsrooms of El Heraldo and La Tribuna.
On August 27 Radio Globo reporters Carlos Paz and Oswaldo Estrada were beaten by police officers taking part in the clearing of people out of the campus of the Francisco Morales Pedagogic University where a group of striking professors had taken refuge.
On September 2, ignoring a Supreme Court ruling, the National Congress passed a decree authorizing takeover of the frequency used by the Teleunsa company’s Canal 8 television channel. In May 2007 the Administrative Court had ruled that Teleunsa was the sole operator of the Canal 8 frequency. This ruling was later upheld by the Administrative Appeals Court and then unanimously by the Supreme Court on May 20, 2008. The legislative action, which had originated in the Presidency, sparked bitter discussion in the chamber. It opened up a new debate on violation of press freedom and free speech in the country. The decision was made in a controversial debate in which legislators from the opposition parties called it a “confiscation” of a frequency that had been lawfully granted to businessman Elías Asfura. “It is not an expropriation, they are simply saying that it belongs to the state,” and taking the frequency from Teleunsa “is an act of sovereignty,” declared President Porfirio Lobo, the main sponsor of the decree. National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio rejected the government action, stating, “If anything has made us free, if anything has made us have the democracy that we have in Honduras, it is freedom of expression.”
On September 6 journalist René Rojas complained that the police were hounding him for the work he was doing. Rojas, who hosts the program “Libre Expresión” (Free Speech) broadcast by a radio station in Santa Rosa de Copán in western Honduras, said that two months ago he had been subjected to harassment for having exposed abuses committed by local traffic police.
On September 9 members of the resistance front supporting former president Manuel Zelaya hurled rocks at the building of two television channels, Canal 10 and Canal 7, and at that of the National Human Rights Commission in Tegucigalpa.
On September 15 dozens of police officers and soldiers burst without authorization into the offices of Radio Uno radio station in San Pedro Sula to disgorge a group of demonstrators who had taken refuge there after attacking parades commemorating the 189th anniversary of the country’s independence.
On September 22 HRN radio reporter Verónica Cáceres was attacked by supporters of former president Manuel Zelaya. The attack occurred as she was outside the Autonomous National University of Honduras covering a protest demonstration by Zelaya supporters in demand for the dismissal of the university’s president.
On September 23 the Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP) presented a report titled “Evaluation of the Institutions Required to Comply with the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information,” in which it is stated that officials of government agencies were clearly reluctant to render accounts on the planning, use and placement of public funds. The report said that several agencies, citing fear for public safety, resisted giving accounts of the monthly remuneration of public servants.
On September 24 San Pedro Sula city alderman Reynaldo Rouglas struck Telediario television reporter Golda Sánchez as she was interviewing him. The attack took place in the office of the municipal official, who was annoyed when the reporter asked him if he was the owner of the tow trucks that the city uses to move badly parked vehicles on local streets.
On October 4 journalist Danilo Antúnez, editor of the financial pages of the newspaper La Tribuna, narrowly escaped with his life after two assailants shot at him as he was about to get into his car. It was reported that the attack could be linked to what he had written about economic crises in Cuba and Venezuela.
On October 12 cameraman José Jorge Amador, who works for the online version of El Heraldo, was detained and beaten as he was covering a parade in support of former president Manuel Zelaya at the National Congress.