5 May 2015
The murder of two more journalists in Honduras within 24 hours highlights the government’s failure to stem the ongoing wave of violence against the Honduran media, days before the country’s human rights record is due to be reviewed at the United Nations, PEN International, the worldwide writers’ association, said today. Radio presenter Artemio Deras Orellana was shot in the western department of Lempira on 23 April 2015; his murder was followed the next day by that of Cristel Joctan López Bermúdez in the capital Tegucigalpa.
PEN International calls on the Honduran authorities to ensure that these and all unsolved murders of journalists are subject to prompt and thorough investigations, taking full account of the victims’ profession and reporting, to avoid the impunity that envelops the vast majority of similar cases in the country. There is an urgent need for the authorities to provide effective protection to all Honduran journalists.
“The Honduran State must do more than make speeches aimed at improving its international image,” said Dina Meza, President of PEN Honduras, referring to the Universal Periodic Review of (UPR) Honduras due to take place at the UN on 8 May. “The constant murder of journalists and social communicators must be investigated immediately. The impunity rate of 91 per cent in such killings denounced by PEN to the UN’s Human Rights Council is an affront to life and does profound damage to the construction of democracy, of which freedom of expression is a fundamental axis.”
Presenter of a Catholic programme on Radio 94.1, Artemio Deras Orellana (24) was reportedly shot dead by unknown assailants alongside lawyer and Justice of the Peace Jorge Pérez Alemán in Valladolid, Lempira department, as they made their way home in Pérez’ car on 23 April 2015. Pérez died at the scene while Deras died of his injuries on his way to hospital. The journalist had reportedly presented his programme ‘La Voz de los Profetas’ (‘The voice of the prophets’) for three years prior to his death.
A police investigation is ongoing. While it was initially appeared that Alemán and Deras had been pursued by assailants in another vehicle, the police are reportedly now investigating the possibility that the pair were attacked by a third person inside their vehicle. According to press reports, the police are also investigating a family dispute relating to land ownership as a motive for the crime – a familiar element in investigations into the murder of journalists, which tend to focus on alleged personal conflicts rather than their work as a possible motive.
The following day saw the fatal shooting of Cristel Joctan López Bermúdez, editor and cameraman for VTV Canal 9 and former editor for Canal 6. López (26) was reportedly shot dead at traffic lights in Tegucigalpa by unknown assailants who attempted to steal his motorcycle as he was going to work. According to media reports, the assailants reportedly the motorcycle at the scene as it failed to start. Detectives from the National Direction of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) are reportedly investigating.
Despite Honduras’ pledge to protect journalists and combat impunity during its last UPR in November 2010, the current and previous administrations have displayed a lack of political will to investigate violations of freedom of expression and to protect journalists. Numerous initiatives to combat impunity have borne scant concrete results.
Attacks on journalists have risen sharply, including both murders and non-fatal, violent attacks. At least 30 journalists have been killed since the last UPR and at least 48 since 2003, most working for TV and/ or radio. Some have been slain despite having been granted protection measures, including by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Convictions have only been obtained for four of these murders, with the remaining 44 unresolved – an impunity rate of over 91 per cent. Even in cases with convictions, justice is only partial and none of the masterminds have been prosecuted.
Ahead of the UPR of Honduras on 8 May 2015, PEN International calls on the Honduran authorities to recognise the importance of independent journalism and condemn all attacks against journalists at the highest levels of the state.
PEN urges the Honduran authorities to improve investigations into crimes against journalists by developing adequately resourced, specialised protocols within the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público) that prioritise any links with their profession, and by ensuring that all prosecutors and police involved in such investigations have a thorough understanding of journalistic work and human rights.
The Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Life (FEDCV) should be obliged to publish a report on its activities since it was set up in 2013, with details of progress in investigations into all murders of journalists. This should include at least six killings which took place between 2003 and July 2009 of which in February 2015 the FEDCV told PEN it had no knowledge.
Honduras should safeguard its journalists by passing the journalist protection law currently before Congress, taking into account civil society concerns, with sufficient resources for meaningful implementation, and improve the implementation of IACHR precautionary measures for journalists.
To read PEN’s full recommendations, click here
To read PEN’s shadow report to the UN, click here
For further information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell at PEN International WiPC, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER. Tel: +44 (0) 2074050338, Fax: +44(0) 2074050339. Email: Tamsin.Mitchell@pen-international.org