Honduran government must take a stand against killings of journalists

Amnesty International has called on the Honduran authorities to take immediate action to protect media workers after an escalating series of attacks has led to six journalists being killed in less than eight weeks.

The killings follow a year of violent attacks and threats against journalists, particularly targeting those investigating organized crime or human rights violations and those who speak out about the June 2009 coup, when then president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales was forced into exile.

“We have spoken to several journalists who due to this incessant campaign of threats and violence, have been forced to stop researching certain stories and resorted to self-censorship,” said Esther Major, Amnesty International’s Central America Researcher.

News anchor Jorge Alberto Orellana became the most recent fatality on 20 April, killed by a single gunshot to the head as he left his studio in Tegucigalpa. His death was preceded by a wave of similar attacks that began on 1 March when student and journalist Joseph Hernandez Ochoa was shot dead in the capital.

After receiving death threats following his reports on drug trafficking, David Meza Montesinos was shot and killed a few metres from his house in northern city La Ceiba on 11 March.

The third killing took place only three days later, when news director and reporter Nahúm Palacios was murdered in the city of Tocoa, after gunmen opened fire on his car with AK 47 automatic weapons.

The journalist had repeatedly been threatened while covering issues relating to a land dispute and drug trafficking. Broadcast journalists Victor Manuel Juárez and Jose Bayardo Mairena became the fourth and fifth victims on 27 March; gunned down and killed as they drove along a road in the Olancho region.

“Targeting journalists in this way suffocates freedom of expression, denies the Honduran population access to information, and of course also violates journalists’ right to life,” said Esther Major.

“The Honduran authorities must condemn these murders and the intimidation of journalists and make a firm public commitment to the protection of journalists.  Investigations must be immediately carried out into the killings to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”

Two men on a motorbike with no number plate followed Ricardo Oviedo Reyes yesterday and have been seen circling the Channel 40 television reporter’s home in Colón. Several shots were fired outside his house on 27 April and he has also received a phone call from a man warning him “you are going to die” before hanging up.

Colón-based artist and Channel 40 journalist Jorge Otts Andersen fears for his life after being told “we are coming to kill you” by a caller during a phone in to one of his shows which in April covered a story about a young man beaten by police officers. Only a month earlier a man had called the show and said “your head already has a price on it”.

“The government must take urgent action to prevent further deaths and immediately offer protection to journalists who are suffering threats or at risk of being murdered. It is unacceptable that journalists are currently putting their lives at risk while simply trying to do their job,” said Esther Major.

Additional information:

The Honduran authorities cracked down on the media following the coup on 28 June 2009, when former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales was exiled after a military-backed group of politicians led by head of congress Roberto Micheletti, took control of the country.

Following the coup d’etat on 28 June 2009 military personnel closed media outlets and journalists were attacked. 

In recent months, 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” (Index Number: AMR 37/003/2010).

A new government led by Porfirio Lobo took office on 27 January 2010.