[Coup opposition and union leaders Carlos H Reyes and Juan Barahona listen as Mery Agurcia of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) describes the ongoing repression against social activists, journalists, and the public in general. Press conference, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 6, 2009. PHOTO: SANDRA CUFFE]
Honduran human rights, press freedoms eroded since June 28
(Published on ‘May I Speak Freely?’ & updated 07/22/2009)
While the debate over whether to call the military-backed ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya a “coup d’etat” remains at the forefront of media attention, a pattern of official violence and media repression points to a greater concern: the significant deterioration of human rights in the country since the events of June 28. Although Honduras has historically lagged in indicators of violence, democracy, human rights treatment and transparency, the rate of rights abuses in recent weeks is unprecedented.
The Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Dissapeared (COFADEH) issued an extensive report on the 1,155 human rights abuses they have cataloged since the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. The vast majority of these claims (1,046) were illegal detentions, mainly for violating curfew and for engaging in protests. In addition, 65 people were reportedly beaten and injured, some seriously, by police or military security officers, and there were 16 reported death threats by officials. Further, one death has been definitively linked to actions by security forces.
A number of watchdog groups, NGOs and media outlets—including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, and the Honduras-based Committee for Free Expression—have reported a pattern of censorship, self-censorship due to concern for personal safety, and military repression of free expression in the three weeks following the June 28 ouster.
A few minutes after the coup began, a power outage silenced all of the country’s radio and TV stations for five hours. When power resumed, most stations aired only cartoons and soap operas, while the public TV station Canal 8—which is being operated by the interim government—resumed normal programming.
Since then, news outlets backing the ouster have largely been allowed to broadcast without interruption, and they have sought to portray a sense of normalcy—images of Hondurans standing in lines at banks or eating at restaurants—while the reality on the ground has been quite different.
Those outlets not entirely supportive of the interim government, however, have been shut down or heavily censored. Reporters Without Borders reported that the military told the news media in the Colón region that in order to avoid being closed down, they must broadcast only information provided by Micheletti’s government and refrain from criticizing Zelaya’s ouster.
Military officers have at times been stationed inside the offices of the independent Radio Globo Honduras and other broadcasters, listening to programming and actively censoring content. In a country where radio is the primary source of information for much of the population, especially the economically disadvantaged, the dismantling of radio stations critical of government actions has been a major blow to the flow of information.
“Anything we get here is rumor; there’s no official information,” said Honduran filmmaker and MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada. “It’s psychological warfare.”
Numerous journalists have reported receiving death threats. One reporter, Luis Galdamez, who hosts a show on Radio Globo, reportedly told RightsAction.org, “I get death threats every day. I don’t even read my text messages anymore, they’re so grotesque.” Jhony Lagos, editor of the independent monthly El Libertador, told Reporters Without Borders that he had been receiving anonymous threatening calls to his cell phone.
Many reporters have gone into hiding, including Eduardo Maldonado, a former presidential candidate and critic of de facto President Roberto Micheletti who hosts a few news programs on Maya TV. He is now taking refuge at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Multiple documented reports exist of more active repression, including attacks on stations—a grenade was thrown at Canal 11’s headquarters on July 4—and the destruction of broadcasting equipment at Canal 5 and Radio Globo. The COFADEH report tallies 27 individual cases of repression against news outlets and reporters.
Sandra Ponce, special prosecutor for human rights, said there have been five formal complaints brought before the Public Ministry regarding aggression, threats or other inhibitions to the free exercise of the press, including Canal 42, Diario El Heraldo, Canal 66 (Maya TV) and Radio Globo. Additionally, 11 foreign reporters for two Venezuelan-based television stations, regional network Telesur and national station Venezolana de Television, were harassed by police and ultimately expelled from the country on July 13.
Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, however, has reportedly not been investigating abuses, having declared his support for the de facto government. Estrada said that on a July 20 radio program, Custodio contended that complaints against the Micheletti government were being manufactured by Zelaya and his supporters in order to destroy the country.
“People are upset,” Estrada said, “not just about Zelaya, but also about human rights, about the destruction of democracy, about the history of our country. They are fearful of the people who are in control.”
For more information:
Americas Quarterly blog July 16, 2009
Cofadeh report July 15, 2009
Conexihon/C-Libre, edition 117
La Tribuna, July 13, 2009
Revistazo, July 13, 2009
Committee to Protect Journalists July 13, 2009
Washington Post July 9, 2009
International Freedom of Expression Exchange, July 8
Committee to Protect Journalists, July 8, 2009
AIUSA Honduras page, Amnesty International USA, July 7, 2009
Reporters without Borders, July 6, 2009
Inter Press Service, July 3, 2009
C-Libre, July 3, 2009
Reporters without Borders, July 1, 2009
Committee to Protect Journalists, June 30, 2009
Reuters, Mon Jun 29, 2009
Conexihon/C-Libre, June 29, 2009