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Journalists and media in Honduras denounce constant violations of freedom of expression

By Yenibel Ruiz and Silvia Higuera

Every 25th of May, Honduras celebrates the Day of the Journalist. For some, however, there is very little to celebrate and journalists prefer to take the time to raise their voices and denounce the constant harassment they claim to suffer in exercising their profession.

In its editorial section on the Day of the Journalist, newspaper Tiempo highlighted the challenge facing journalists in the country in producing “a new type of journalism, with determination and truthfulness" as well as the obstacles they face in the process.

"We are aware of the difficulties, exacerbated through time, to act freely. The threats - veiled and open -, the persecution, retaliation, murders, all hang over journalists and media who do not follow the orders of those interested in suppressing the freedom of expression. But the magnitude of the challenge is, in the journalistic profession, the greatest incentive to assert their vocation and their vow of service to society."

South Cholusat Channel 36 reported that coinciding with the Day of the Journalist, the government threatened to shut down the channel. The authorities accused the channel of "broadcasting messages that threaten national security and the public interest."

The organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB ) produced the report 'In the midst of crimes, threats, harassment and more, journalists from Radio Globo and Globo TV practice their profession' in which it denounced the "pressures" journalists have faced, almost daily, since the coup of 2009.

The report states that the day of the coup (June 28, 2009), dozens of armed soldiers violently entered the radio stations' headquarters as it transmitted the details of the coup and halted the transmission. On September 28, 2009, a group of soldiers and police reentered the premises, shot the lock and confiscated the equipment, forcing the radio to go underground.

Due to these events, on October 2009 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) extended the precautionary measures granted to the workers of Radio Globo, Channel 36, Radio La Catracha and Cholusat Sur Radio “to guarantee the right to freedom of expression for [these] communications media workers […] and the right to information by Honduran society.” Eventually, Radio Globo resumed transmission.

In its report, RWB recounts the murder of four Radio Globo journalists since 2011. The murder of journalist Erick Arriaga on February 23, 2015 was added to this figure. Authorities do not connect the death of Arriaga to his journalistic work, but with criminal gangs operating in the area— a version of events that some organizations reject .

Through various accounts, the report also refers to various threats, harassment and pressures received by journalists from this outlet. One of these threats was reported by the director of Radio Globo, David Romero Ellner, who claimed to have received a death threat after the station reported on a case of "embezzlement" in the Honduran Institute of Social Security ( HISS ) and alleged that the country's president, Juan Orlando Hernández, was implicated.

Similarly, on May 28, journalists from Globo TV reported a 'sabotage' by a cable company that took them off the air, according to the Committee for Freedom of Expression (C-Libre). A journalist from the outlet said he felt threatened by political party Partido Nacional. The outlet had been covering stories about alleged corruption in that party, according to C-Libre.

However, it is not only journalists from this chain who are harassed, threatened or killed.

On May 19, a journalist from Hable Como Habla (HCH), a cameraman and a photographer for the newspaper El Heraldo were assaulted by the deputy inspector of the National Police, according to C-Libre. The attack occurred when the journalists were trying to cover the murder of a person whose body was found in a village near the city of Tegucigalpa.

Also, on May 7, journalist Francisco Zuniga, who works at HRN radio and the television news program Hoy Mismo, asked for protection for himself and his family before the National Commissioner of Human Rights (CONADEH) of Honduras, Roberto Herrera Cáceres, after receiving anonymous death threats. The official asked the Honduran state for precautionary measures to safeguard the life of the journalist and his family, while Zuniga declared he was unaware of the motive behind the threats.

According to the CONADEH, during 2014 and to this point in 2015, it recorded "about 50 incidents related to freedom of expression and information in Honduras, ranging from threats, attacks, assaults, kidnappings, assaults, cases of persecution and the seizure of a media outlet. In addition, confiscation of equipment, convictions, acquittals, conciliation hearings, restrictions on freedom of expression, the sentencing of a journalist, the lawsuit against a news director and the violent deaths of 14 people linked to the media."

Honduras is the country with the highest murder rate in the world (90.4 per 100,000 habitants), according to the latest report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, reported CNN Español. This includes the increasing number of murders of journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since 1992 there have been five murders of journalists for reasons related to their work. However, since 2009, the killings of 17 other journalists whose crimes could be related to the exercise of their profession have been recorded, but the motives have not been confirmed.

Organizations like RWB and CPJ agree that after the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, the practice of journalism has become a dangerous and difficult task.

In the latest annual report of the organization Freedom House on freedom of the press around the world, Honduras was listed as "not free" due to the violence suffered by its journalists, as well as by the indictments they face from public officials.


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