Knight Center
Knight Center


TV reporter is killed in Honduras, as the country becomes increasingly dangerous for journalists

When a TV journalist was shot to death recently in Tegucigalpa, the police were quick to say the motive had nothing to do with his reporting work. Some publications say he was the 37th a journalist murdered in Honduras since 2003, while others say he was the 45th reporter killed during that same period.

The motive for assassination of journalist Herlyn Espinal may be unclear and the statistics may be controversial, but there is no doubt that Honduras has become increasingly dangerous for journalists  during the last decade.  And that impunity prevails in crimes against Honduran journalists, which have not been properly investigated, according to Press Freedom advocacy organizations.

In the case of Espinal, however, police acted fast. He disappeared on July 21 and the police said a suspect was quickly arrested, reported La Prensa. The same newspaper said that “according to the state Commission on Human Rights, 37 journalists were killed in Honduras between 2003 and 2013 without the majority of those cases ever being resolved.”

This year, Freedom House lowered its rating of the Honduran press to “not free,” citing a rise in harassment and attacks on the press in recent years “coupled with a climate of impunity in which journalists’ deaths were not investigated thoroughly or in a timely manner.”

Ten journalists were killed in 2010, including six in the month of March. Since then, the Committee for Human Rights has documented over 100 threats or attacks against Honduran media workers.

In the vast majority of cases, a suspect is never identified. Attackers are generally believed to have affiliations to vigilante groups or criminal gangs, though in some cases victims have reported harassment by military and police. Many believe that political motivations are behind a majority of journalist murders, though the government has blamed them on “routine street crime.”

In a 2011 interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Manuel Torres of La Prensa said that the use of illegal firearms, the participation of several suspects, the lack of robbery, the victims’ association with the opposition National Front of Popular Resistance, and the evidence of torture surrounding the deaths all contribute to an organized effort to intimidate critical journalism and opposition freedom of expression. The lack of prosecutions suggests a possible paramilitary operation that enjoys impunity.

“I don’t believe there’s a State policy ordering the killing of journalists and social organizers but that does not excuse the State from its responsibility for what happens,” Torres said.

Journalists from local and community stations have frequently been targeted, and Human Rights groups have charged that many killings are carried out by private security forces for large corporations that have close relations with the Honduran military and police.

The apparent impunity for attacks against the media has limited journalism in the country where reporters neglect thorough investigation for fear of retaliation, according to the Fundación MEPI.

In 2013, the IFEX-ALC alliance said in a report that impunity for crimes against journalists was the biggest threat to free expression in the Americas. Honduras was named amongst the riskiest countries for journalists in the report.

Recent victims of fatal attacks include three staff from Globo TV y Radio: Juan Carlos Argeñal, shot in December 2013, Aníbal Barrow, found dismembered in June 2013 and Manuel de Jesús Murillo Varela, who years before had requested government protection in fear for his life, shot in November 2013.

In November 2012, radio host and university journalism student Ángel Edgardo López Fiallos was shot in the head as he walked on the street by masked men riding motorcycles with no license plates.

TV news anchor Noel Valladares was shot dead immediately outside the Canal 66 Maya TV studio where he worked in April 2012 after having reported receiving death threats and being subject to extortion.

Eighty percent of the 37 documented journalist deaths since 2003 have occurred since 2010 under the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, reported La Tribuna.

Violence against journalists has become especially severe after a 2009 military coup that ousted leftist Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and was widely condemned by international leaders and organizations. Zelaya had been forging stronger ties with leftist leaders in Cuba and Venezuela, and the coup was seen as a restoration of a conservative political order. Following the takeover, de facto leader Roberto Micheletti occupied or shut down various media outlets, installed a coup leader and former head of military as head of telecommunications company Hondutel and was widely accused of political censorship of journalism.

The suspect in the death of Espinal has not been convicted. Espinal was found partially unclothed, shot twice and face down by the side of a highway a day after he went missing. 


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter "Journalism in the Americas"

Boletim Semanal (Português)
Boletín Semanal (Español)
Weekly Newsletter (English)
Marketing by ActiveCampaign