Honduras: Landmark precautionary measures from IACHR for journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado
12 November 2014
A legally-binding decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting the Honduran Government to suspend the 16-month work ban imposed on journalist and founding member of PEN Honduras, Julio Ernesto Alvarado, for alleged defamation of a public official is a clear message to governments in the region to protect journalists and guarantee the right to freedom of expression, PEN International said today. It is the first time that the IACHR has revoked a ban on a journalist practising his or her profession.
The decision by the IACHR last week requests that Honduras suspend a December 2013 Honduran Supreme Court sentence against Alvarado and abstain from any action which would inhibit the journalist from practising his profession.
“PEN has always considered Mr Alvarado’s conviction and the work ban imposed on him to be politically motivated and a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression. The granting of these Precautionary Measures by the Inter-American Commission is a landmark decision for the protection of the freedom of expression of journalists in the region,” said Carles Torner, PEN International’s Executive Director.
Precautionary measures are urgent requests, directed to a Member State of the Organisation of American States (OAS), to take immediate injunctive measures in serious and urgent cases to prevent irreparable harm to individuals and their human rights. The measures were granted in response to an appeal to the IACHR by PEN International, journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza and Alvarado’s lawyer, Kenia Oliva Cardona, both also founding members of PEN Honduras.
The granting of Precautionary Measures is legally binding and compels the Honduran Government to ensure that no suspension of Julio Ernesto Alvarado’s profession can be enforced until the IACHR has ruled on the admissibility of a complaint regarding the violation of Alvarado’s right to freedom of expression and judicial protection.
In its examination of Alvarado’s complaint – also presented by PEN International, Meza and Oliva – the IACHR will consider the use of criminal law to sanction statements of public interest. Previously, it has ruled that such practices violate the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, and have a chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and information. The Honduran government has three months to respond to the IACHR regarding Alvarado’s complaint.
On granting Alvarado precautionary measures, the IACHR stated that it: “[…] considers that, given the severity and censorship involved, the implementation of [Alvarado’s] sentence not only restricts the […] beneficiary’s right to freedom of expression, but has the potential to render illusory the exercise of the right to express oneself and disseminate information on matters of public interest in Honduras. Indeed, this conviction could lead to a silencing effect on all people, particularly journalists and [social] communicators, who would have to subject themselves to constant self-censorship before reporting anything that might affect the honour of those who hold public office. It could thus jeopardize the freedom of expression of Honduran society as a whole.”
The IACHR’s 5 November 2014 decision to suspend the 16-month work ban and fine imposed on Alvarado follows a complex legal battle between the Honduran Government and the journalist.
A 16-month prison sentence and ban on practising journalism was originally handed down to the director and presenter of Globo TV’s news programme ‘Mi Nación’ in December 2013 due to his coverage in 2006 of alleged corruption by a university dean, Belinda Flores. In April 2014, Alvarado paid a fine in order to lift the 16-month prison sentence and ban on practising journalism. However, Flores appealed and on 22 August the Penal Appeals Court (La Corte de Apelaciones de lo Penal) in Tegucigalpa ruled that the work ban should be reinstated. The ruling was only communicated to Alvarado’s lawyer more than a month later, on 26 September.
On 29 September, Alvarado’s lawyer requested the court to reconsider its decision to reinstate the work ban. This appeal was rejected the very next day, on 30 September – an unprecedentedly rapid ruling in the context of the Honduran justice system, where appeal procedures typically last for months or even years. The notification came just hours after Alvarado and Dina Meza spoke on his TV show about his case and perceived irregularities on the part of the Appeals Court, on the evening of 29 September. However there was again a delay in communicating the ruling to Alvarado’s lawyer, who did not receive notification until 6 October.
On 9 October, Alvarado’s lawyer submitted an application for the implementation of the ruling to be suspended pending review by the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court of Justice (la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia). This action, known in Spanish as an Amparo, is a remedy for the protection of constitutional rights where all other routes of appeal have been exhausted.
In the absence of a response, on 17 October, Alvarado, along with other journalists and PEN Honduras members, presented 13 other Amparos to the Supreme Court. Procedure dictates that Alvarado’s lawyer and the other petitioners should have received a response to these submissions within 24 hours, but to date the Supreme Court has yet to respond.
The Supreme Court upheld Alvarado’s journalism ban on 7 November 2014. However, this is overruled by the IACHR’s decision to grant Alvarado precautionary measures.
For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to editors:
PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088. www.pen-international.org