Honduras: PEN Honduras appeals to Supreme Court in final attempt to halt ban on practising journalism
17 October 2014 – Journalist and founding member of PEN Honduras, Julio Ernesto Alvarado, is today appearing along with other journalists and PEN Honduras members before the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court of the country in a final attempt to fight the reinstatement of a 16-month ban on practising journalism. 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.
On 9 October 2014, Mr 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). Procedure dictates that Mr Alvarado’s lawyer should have received a response to this submission within 24 hours, however, more than a week later she has yet to receive a response. In addition, she has been informed that the plaintiff’s lawyer has already requested the file to be returned to the court where the case began, suggesting that the judgment is imminently due to be enforced.
Mr Alvarado, director and presenter of Globo TV’s news programme ‘Mi Nación’ was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence and a work ban of the same length in December 2013 due to his coverage in 2006 of alleged corruption by a university dean. PEN considers 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.
On 9 October 2014, Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, wrote to the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission to express our deep concern for Mr Alvarado’s case.
Dr. Jorge Rivera Avilés
Presidente, Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras (CSJ)
Poder Judicial de Honduras
Centro Cívico Gubernamental
Boulevard Fuerzas Armadas
Tegucigalpa MDC, Honduras, CA.
Dr. Roberto Herrera Cáceres
Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CONADEH)
Colonia Florencia Norte, Boulevard Suyapa
9 October 201
Re:Request to review case of PEN member barred from journalism, threatened and intimidated after covering corruption in state university
I write as Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, the writers’ association with Centres in more than 100 countries, to express our deep concern about the ban on practising journalism imposed on Julio Ernesto Alvarado, director and presenter of the news programme ‘Mi Nación’ on Globo TV, due to his coverage in 2006 of alleged corruption by a university dean. In December 2013 Mr Alvarado was convicted on appeal of criminal defamation in a case brought by Belinda Flores, dean of the Economic Science Faculty of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH), and was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence and a work ban of the same length. Both penalties were lifted on payment of a fine by Mr Alvarado, yet the work ban has now been reinstated.
PEN International is also seriously concerned about the death threats and intimidation that the journalist has suffered in the last two years. Mr Alvarado is a founding member of PEN Honduras, formally welcomed as a PEN Centre at the 80th PEN International Congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 1 October 2014.
In April 2014, Mr Alvardo paid a fine in order to lift the 16-month prison sentence and ban on practising journalism. However, Ms 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 Mr Alvarado’s lawyer, Kenia Oliva Cardona, more than a month later, on 26 September.
On 29 September, Mr 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 Mr Alvarado and journalist and human rights defender 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 Mr Alvarado’s lawyer, who did not receive notification until 6 October.
Mr Alvarado’s lawyer intends to submit 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, and has 60 days to do so. However, she has been informed that Ms Flores’ lawyer has already requested the file to be returned to the court where the case began, suggesting that the judgement is due to be enforced.
PEN considers 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. Moreover, it is disturbed by numerous apparent irregularities in due process, which include the following:
- Mr Alvarado’s conviction rested on the fact that he had given airtime in three editions of ‘Mi Nación’ in 2006 to two UNAH teachers who alleged that Ms Flores was involved in influence peddling and falsification of university degrees. The journalist was originally found not guilty in 2011 and was only convicted on appeal in 2013, whereas the two teachers who actually made the allegedly defamatory comments were again acquitted. Moreover, the court acknowledged that Ms Flores was actually implicated in some wrong-doing. It is worth noting that Ms Flores, as a dean at a state-run university, is a state employee and public figure who should be prepared to accept a higher level of criticism, as clarified by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 34 on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
- Once convicted, Mr Alvarado paid a fine stipulated by the court in order to lift his sentence, yet the ban on practising journalism has been reinstated. The speed with which Mr Alvarado’s appeal has been processed is highly unusual in the context of the Honduran justice system and indeed the case itself, which has now dragged on for more than eight years. This sudden haste raises questions about the impartiality and independence of the judicial process, as do the substantial delays in notifying Mr Alvarado’s legal representative of rulings in the appeal.
- This haste is particularly worrying given Ms Flores’ reported intention to launch civil defamation proceedings against Mr Alvarado once the criminal case is finalised. If such a law suit is successful, she could be awarded large damages which could ultimately lead to Mr Alvarado’s imprisonment, should he fail to pay them.
- A further cause for significant concern is that in the latter part of Mr Alvarado’s eight-year ordeal he has been subjected to multiple death threats and incidents intimidation, none of which have been properly investigated but which would appear to have a clear link to his journalism.
PEN International urges the Supreme Court of Justice to review Mr Alvarado’s case for violations of his right to freedom of expression and due process as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the ban on practising journalism is dropped and that he is not imprisoned. PEN believes that his conviction for criminal defamation should ultimately be quashed. PEN calls on CONADEH to ensure that this review takes place.
PEN also calls on the Honduran authorities to investigate the threats and intimidation faced by the journalist and to provide him with immediate protection.
Full details of Mr Alvarado’s case are given in the statement attached (which can also be viewed here). For further information, please contact PEN International’s Americas Researcher, Tamsin Mitchell: email: email@example.com; tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338; fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339.
We look forward to receiving your response.
Marian Botsford Fraser
Chair, Writers in Prison Committee
– President Juan Orlando Hernández
– Attorney General Oscar Chinchilla Banegas
– OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Me Edison Lanza
– Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Mr David Kaye