Honduran human rights, press freedoms eroded since June 28
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 outletsâ€”including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, and the Honduras-based Committee for Free Expressionâ€”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 countryâ€™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 8â€”which is being operated by the interim governmentâ€”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 normalcyâ€”images of Hondurans standing in lines at banks or eating at restaurantsâ€”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 ColÃ³n region that in order to avoid being closed down, they must broadcast only information provided by Michelettiâ€™s government and refrain from criticizing Zelayaâ€™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 stationsâ€”a grenade was thrown at Canal 11's headquarters on July 4â€”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 RamÃ³n 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:
Press Freedom Under Attack in Honduras
Americas Quarterly blog July 16, 2009
Cofadeh report July 15, 2009
Conexihon/C-Libre, edition 117
Freedom of press violated
La Tribuna, July 13, 2009
Women's radio programs censored
Revistazo, July 13, 2009
Venezuelan reporters leaved after police harassment
Committee to Protect Journalists July 13, 2009
Critics Cite Slanted Local Coverage, Limits on Pro-Zelaya Outlets
Washington Post July 9, 2009
Press freedom violations continue post-coup
International Freedom of Expression Exchange, July 8
Skewed coverage has followed Honduran coup
Committee to Protect Journalists, July 8, 2009
Honduras:Intimidation of Media workers and Protestors Rising
AIUSA Honduras page, Amnesty International USA, July 7, 2009
Media in coup storm
Reporters without Borders, July 6, 2009
Honduras: Free expression flogged
Inter Press Service, July 3, 2009
Continuing hostilities toward reporters
C-Libre, July 3, 2009
Coup bodes ill for media regardless of outcome
Reporters without Borders, July 1, 2009
http://www.conexihon.com/ediciones/edicion117/NOTAS/n_libertad-expresion2.html (Spanish version)
After Honduran coup, reporters detained, signals blocked
Committee to Protect Journalists, June 30, 2009
Honduran army smothers media after coup
Reuters, Mon Jun 29, 2009
Inter-American Comission on Human Rights on limitation of freedom of press
Conexihon/C-Libre, June 29, 2009