Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Monday 1 May, Amnesty is calling attention to journalists in Honduras, who at serious risk. Six journalists, all men, have been shot dead in the last eight weeks, and numerous others have received death threats. No one has been held to account and no action taken to support and protect journalists who write or speak out about organised crime, human rights violations or the government.
On 20 April, news presenter Jorge Alberto Orellana became the sixth journalist to be killed since 1 March. He was shot as he left television station TVH in the capital, Tegucipalpa, after finishing his show "Live with Georgino". No motive has yet been identified for the killing. He and five other journalists have been shot dead by unknown assailants.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:
“To be threatened so publicly, sometimes on air, for doing a valuable and legitimate job is the stuff of nightmares. The spate of murders, in which journalists have been picked off as they travel to and from their jobs, is designed to cultivate a climate of fear in which all questioning voices are silenced.
The persecution and censorship faced by journalists, particularly those confronting the authorities and exposing human rights abuses, is appalling. Honduras and other countries where freedom of the press is endangered, must act to protect journalists. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right.”
Among those killed were radio journalist David Meza Montesinos, and Nahúm Palacios, news director for TV station Channel 5. David Meza Montesinos, killed on 11 March, had been investigating the issue of drug trafficking and had received threats for several weeks. Nahúm Palacios was murdered three days later. He had investigated a land dispute in the Aguán region and had also reported on drug trafficking, as well as being very out-spoken against the coup d'etat in June 2009. On 24 July 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had requested that Honduras take steps to protect him, but the authorities took no action.
Amnesty International has received numerous reports of journalists being threatened and intimidated in Honduras. Ricardo Oviedo Reyes, a television journalist and President of the Association of Media workers of Colón, in north-eastern Honduras, reported that on 9 April, shots were fired by a group of people outside the television studio where he was working. On one occasion, two men on a motorbike followed him home from the studio and have been spotted on other occasions circling his home.
Then, on 21 April an unidentified man phoned him, saying "You are going to die" before hanging up. On 25 April, broadcaster Jorge Otts Andersen was threatened while presenting a news programme. After discussing the story of a young man who was beaten by police officers, he was called on air by a man who said "We are coming to kill you" and hung up. Just one month before this, also during his show, a man called in and said "Your head already has a price on it".The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called on Honduras to protect over 100 people whose lives are at risk. Many of these are journalists.
On 1 March, Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, a 26-year-old student and journalist was shot dead in Tegucigalpa. He was the first victim in the recent spate of killings of journalists. His colleague, journalist Carol Cabrera, was injured in the same attack. On 11 March, radio journalist David Meza Montesinos was killed by unidentified assailants who had followed his car and shot him as he drove home. He had been investigating the issue of drug trafficking and had received threats by phone for several weeks. Three days later, Nahúm Palacios, news director for TV station Channel 5, was murdered while driving through the city of Tocoa, Colón department. He had investigated a land dispute in the Aguán region and had also reported on drug trafficking. On 24 July 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had requested that Honduras immediately take steps to protect him, but the authorities took no action. Victor Manuel Juárez and Jose Bayardo Mairena both worked for the news programme Asi es Olancho (This is Olancho) in Olancho department, eastern Honduras. They were shot from another vehicle on 27 March as they drove along a road in Olancho.
Following the coup d'etat on 28 June 2009 there were closures and occupation of media outlets by military personnel, the beating and physical attack of journalists, and journalists, particularly those investigating organised criminal activity, human rights violations or speaking out about the coup d'etat, have been subjected to threats and intimidation. Amnesty International documented violations during the coup d'etat in a report released on 27 January 2010 titled "Honduras: Recommendations to the new Honduran government following the coup of June 2009"
A new government led by Porfirio Lobo took office on 27 January 2010. Now, with six killings of journalists in just two months, the government must take urgent and immediate action to protect journalists receiving threats, prevent further deaths and investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of these murders.