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Media, Freedom Of Expression Suffer In Hounduras’ Post-election Violence

Protestor hit by teargas cannister (Pic courtesy Rebel Reporting)


Hopes that the November 24 presidential election would usher in an era of democratic governance and respect for human rights – especially freedom of expression and information – suffered a setback after rival candidates claimed victory at the polls that resulted in street violence, where journalists also became victims.

 The election – the first since a 2009 coup that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power – witnessed two rival candidates, Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya of the left-leaning Libre Party, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party claiming victory.
Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced Hernandez’s victory 34% to 29%, with 68% of the votes counted by early Wednesday, Castro denounced the results claiming massive electoral fraud.
 “‘[t]he TSE (electoral council) hid 19 percent of the ballots on election night which altered the outcome,’ Zelaya wrote on his Twitter account. ‘Within 48 hours results from around the country will be in’ and the alleged fraud will be ironed out, he said,” reported Agence France Press (AFP).
‘We will confirm our victory, and if it were the opposite, we also would acknowledge it,’ Zelaya said warning: ‘Nobody should speculate; we will look at the dimensions of the fraud – and what was properly done,” AFP continued.
The controversy sparked clashes in Tegucigalpa between the police and university students demonstrating in support of Castro. “About 100 police in helmets and riot gear used gas and then truncheons to beat the chanting youths and send them scrambling. Students fled from police, running to their nearby campus, and at the entrance gates authorities lobbed more tear gas at them,” AFP said.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said two journalists, photographer Mario Fajardo (La Tribuna) and correspondent Víctoria Aguilar (Globo TV) had lost consciousness due to exposure to teargas during standoff. On November 22, Cesar Obando Flores(radio station Libre Estereo) complained of receiving death threat over the telephone demanding that he halts election coverage, RSF said.
“We call for an end to acts of intimidation and violence against journalists and we urge both the government and the opposition to respect their work,” RSF said. “The authorities must guarantee the safety of journalists and must punish the police officers responsible for so much violence.”
Beyond attacks on journalists, police action against the university students is also an assault on freedom of expression. The website Rebel Reporting said, “The protests started at around noon outside of the gates of the university.  Several hundred students reportedly blocked traffic.  Soon after, police arrived and, using force and teargas drove the students back through the university gates.  Once the students were locked in, the cops continued to use teargas and long, heavy sticks (rather than traditional batons) to beat students.
“The tear gas was produced in the U.S.  Much of that used was military-grade gas. No one was allowed to leave the university during the violence, as the police brutally attacked and the protesters made occasional attempt to defend themselves by throwing stones. Many were trapped inside the university some who were not even originally part of the protest, with no way out,” Rebel Reporting said.
Although the election is disputed by Castro and her party, AFP said, “The governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica congratulated Hernandez. Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega also recognized Hernandez as the winner. European Union and Organization of American States observers called Sunday’s voting process transparent and non-problematic.”
AFP also noted that Zelaya was elected president in 2005, but when he showed an inclination to move leftward politically by reforming the constitution and was deposed in the 2009 coup, there was “no vocal or active opposition from the United States – a fact that deeply undermined US credibility.”
On November 19, RSFcalled for “overhaul of the entire media.” It said that attacks on journalists and other human rights defenders in Honduras have taken place against a background of generalised violence. The media watchdog demanded, “The protection of journalists and other news providers and the fight against impunity need to be addressed during the next parliamentary period.”
The 2011 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was Honduras’s Karla Rivas, news director of Radio Progresso. Before the election RSF interviewedher on the state of the media in Honduras.

Journalist-Killers At Large


Reporters without Borders (RSF) called for an “overhaul of the entire media” of Honduras after elections are held on Saturday. RSF’scall comes on the international day to end impunity, which, coincidentally, has relevance to Honduras where 27 journalists have been murdered since the coup in 2009 and perpetrators have gone largely free. RSF has also named Honduran journalist Annibal Barrow with nine other murdered journalists to symbolise impunity throughout the world.
It is also a source of pride to this blog that RSF has interviewedKarla Rivas, news director of Radio Progresso on the state of the media in Honduras. Rivas was the winner of the annual Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2011. 

Speakingat the National Press Club in Washington DC as she accepted the award, Rivas gave voice to the parlous state of media freedom and impunity in her country. She said, “Within this context of high insecurity and institutional arbitrariness, the deaths of journalists and media workers remain in the shadow of impunity, because impunity characterises a society based on the rule of the strongest.”
This blog featured the state of media freedom in Honduras in relation to the killing of journalist Manuel Murillo Varela on October 25. Please click here.
RSF said that attacks on journalists and other human rights defenders in Honduras have taken place against a background of generalised violence. The media watchdog demanded, “The protection of journalists and other news providers and the fight against impunity need to be addressed during the next parliamentary period.”
RSF acknowledges that although there are few individual cases in Honduras where those killing journalists have been convicted and punished – and it gives the example of Roger Mauricio Garcia, 22, found guilty of murdering the journalist Héctor Medina Polanco in 2011 – “but motives and instigators have never been identified.”
The impunity enjoyed by those who kill Honduran journalists is not peculiar to that country. And RSF details a horrifying figure of 700 journalists killed in connection with their work in the past 10 years in another statement. Of them, there was last year alone a staggering 88 journalists 47 citizen-journalists.
“This is devastating. The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for this bloodshed encourages them to continue violating human rights and freedom of information. And it creates a climate of fear and uncertainty for journalists that fosters self-censorship,” RSFsaid.
RSF said that in order to put a “name and face” on the statistics on impunity it was presenting the names of ten journaists: Samir Kassir (Lebanon),Syed Saleem Shahzad (Pakistan), Lasantha Wickrematunga (Sri Lanka), Aníbal Barrow (Honduras),Guillermo Cano (Colombia), Norbert Zongo (Burkina Faso), Didace Namujimbo (Democratic Republic of Congo), Khadjimourad Kamalov (Daghestan-Russia),Hrant Dink (Turkey) andSattar Beheshti (Iran).
“Those responsible [for the journalists’ deaths] take many different forms and include governments, armed groups and hired killers. Their murders resulted in total or partial impunity. Investigations were sometimes launched only to turn into smokescreens. In some cases, the perpetrators were arrested but instigators were not touched,” RSF said.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is marking the international day to end impunity by writing to the governments of Pakistan, Iran and Russia asking them to address impunity for violence against journalists in their countries. IFJ’s campaign End Impunity was launched last month against the three countries with highest death tolls for journalists, IFJsaid in a statement.
IFJ said, “End Impunity is already having an important impact, with many of IFJ’s affiliates across the world, including the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate and the Association of Journalists of the Republic of Poland, showing their solidarity and support by sending their own letters to the embassies of Iraq, Pakistan and Russia in their countries.”
IFJ has also organised a series of activities to raise awareness on impunity that it has detailed in the statement. Please take a moment to read how you can help.

Mexico Targets Journalists Covering Protests

Police attack protestors in Mexico (Pic. courtesy  Article 19)


Writing on October 23, as Mexico came under the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the New York-based human rights watchdog Freedom House referred to, “[t]he continued violence against journalists in Mexico and ongoing threats to freedom of expression posed by organized crime, widespread insecurity, and endemic corruption and impunity. In framing their questions and recommendations, UNHRC member states should prioritize concerns about freedom of expression, as violence against journalists and human rights defenders, undermines all Mexicans’ fundamental rights.”
This trend is not new. A recent example of media repression is when a group of masked men attacked two radio stations, La Estrella Maya que Habla and La FM Maya, in Quintana Roo, southwest Mexico on October 28 that injured journalists and a caretaker. This was not the first time La Estrella Maya que Habla was attacked.
On October 2, 15 journalists were attacked by police in Mexico City while they were covering protests marking the 45th anniversary of a student massacre in 1968. Many journalists were injured and others had their equipment damaged by marauding law enforcement officers.
“We have previously noted that that abuses directed at journalists covering demonstrations will continue unless they are punished. The trivialization of violence against journalists undermines media coverage of events of this nature. We point out that, without journalists, the demonstrators’ message would not be heard by the public,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF)
The attack on individual journalists and institutions and demonstrating protestors are different strategies carried out by the Mexican government to stifle dissent, especially to ensure that the unpopularity of the government does not achieve wide publicity. RSF says 88 journalist have been killed in the country in the past 10 years and 17 have disappeared.
In view of this, Article 19 launched an initiative to monitor the media to prevent Mexican authorities targeting journalists and others who document protests against the government. The report, which is in Spanish, looks at 46 cases where protestors were attacked by the police.

“In total, 46 cases were documented by Article 19: 30 men, 11 women and 5 people who have not disclosed their gender for security reasons. Thirty-two cases were direct attacks committed by the police, eight were violations committed by unknown groups, three were committed by organised groups which might have been acting with the support and consent of security agents, and three incidents involved attackers with their faces covered,” says a post on Article 19’s website.

Honduran Authorities Kill Journalists To Send A Message

Manuel Murillo Varela (Pic courtesy RSF)


Targeting of journalists in Honduras, on the increase in recent months as the country’s general elections approach, continued with a freelance cameraman in Tegucigalpa the latest victim. Manuel Murillo Varela’s killing on October 25 comes four months after the abduction and murder of Anibal Barrow‘s.
To the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, media freedom in Honduras is of special interest because the third winner of the prize – in 2011 – was Karla Rivas working for Radio Progresso. 

Rivas (R) speaking at award ceremony

 Speakingat the National Press Club in Washington DC as she accepted the award, Rivas said, “Within this context of high insecurity and institutional arbitrariness, the deaths of journalists and media workers remain in the shadow of impunity, because impunity characterises a society based on the rule of the strongest.”

Violence against journalists has heighted after the military coup of 2009 that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power. A transit point in drug trafficking and political strongmen, Honduras’ journalists have not only been killed but threatened and tortured. The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had told the police to afford Murilloextra protection “after a score of policemen kidnapped and tortured him and a colleague for 24 hours in February 2010.” RSF also said that Murillo had complained “that policemen seeking video footage of demonstrations by opponents of the June 2009 military coup had threatened to kill his family.”
“We call on the authorities to organise a thorough and independent investigation to shed light on all aspects of this murder,” RSF said. “We also call for an end to impunity for all crimes of violence against journalists, because investigations have been slow to produce results.”
Anibal Barrow (Pic. courtesy RSF)

On July 9, the dismembered and partially-burned body of Anibal Barrow was discovered near Villanueva. RSFsaid it is believed that Barrow was killed on the day he was abducted – June 24 and a sum 15,000 Euros was paid by a “highly-placed person” to hit men. The media watchdog went on to say that four men had been arrested and the police was on the lookout for four others.  

“While the investigation has already produced some results, the murder will remain unpunished as long as the instigators have not been identified and brought to trial,” RSF said.
Following Barrow’s killing the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission Human Rights even called for a special investigative body: “The Office of the Special Rapporteur insists that the State needs to create special investigative bodies and protocols, as well as protection mechanisms designed to ensure the safety of those who are being threatened because of their work in journalism.”
On April 9, Fidelina Sandoval with the radio and television station Globo survived a murder attempt unhurt in Tegucigalpa. RSF berated Honduran authorities for not providing Sandoval protection. RSF attributed the attempt to silence Sandoval was connected to illegal mining interests and land disputes. It called on the government to disarm militias working for these interests if effective end to the murder of journalists with impunity was to be brought to an end.
Fidelina Sandoval (Pic. courtesy RSF)

 “What will Fidelina Sandoval’s fate now be? The secretary of state for justice and the High Commissioner for Human Rights must, as a matter of urgency, put protective measures in place that are appropriate for journalists, as their security is not in any way guaranteed,” said RSF.

Sandoval fled abroad.
In a bid to give context to the killings of journalists among others (Honduras has the highest murder rate in the whole world: 91 to every 1000), the Index on Censorship (IOC) said that criminal gangs, drug cartels and government politicians used the killings to give messages to others.
“Last July, body parts of a man, which appeared to have been partially burnt, floated on a small lagoon near sugar cane fields in San Pedro Sula.  It was the body of Aníbal Barrow … Barrow was a close friend of President Lobo and was the second journalist with known links to the President murdered violently in the last two years. In May 2012, police found the body of Ángel Alfredo Villatoro, also a television broadcaster …  His body was found dressed with a police special forces uniform.  Nobody understood the uniform and the message.  A few days before Villatoro was kidnapped, the police had taken away bodyguards that had been assigned to the reporter because of death threats.”
 
IOC goes on to say that due to threat the media does not provide context or details in its reportage for the killings, nor is there investigative reporting into the murders because of the connections between the deaths and important political figures that have impunity.
“‘We have examined some cases deeply but can never reach any conclusions,’ said one editor (to IOC). Part of the reason many journalists are afraid to dig too deep in the cases of their dead colleagues is because they fear that in these cases, as in others in Honduras today, the authors could come from political, journalistic or police sectors, who may be operating in tandem with members of organized crime,” says IOC.