Honduran Government Threatens Free Speech with Media Gag Bill

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By The Dawn News / February 9, 2018

On January 27, 2018 Juan Orlando Hernández was inaugurated for a second term as president of Honduras in the National Stadium in what he called an act of democracy. Despite their best efforts, the photos and videos of the act could not hide the reality that the stadium was essentially empty, and after the ceremony videos surfaced of the attendees waiting in lines for their pay-out for attending the act, a meal and a canasta familiar (basket of groceries), a tactic to take advantage of the most needy for their political image. However even the bribery was poorly executed and fraudulent and they ran out of supplies which caused anger and fights.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Honduras were marching in the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa and across the country against the inauguration of a man who “won” the elections through blatand fraud. These peaceful massive marches were violently repressed by the security forces of the Honduran state.

Government crackdown on freedom of speech

The hard-line conservative government of JOH has continued in its projects to promote the interests of the Honduran oligarchy and and repress the resistance of the people.

The most recent attack on Honduran people’s rights is a bill that seeks to restrict “acts of hatred and discrimination on social media and the internet,” though still vague, the bill seeks to restrict and sanction certain online speech. The bill was proposed by Marcos Bertilio Paz, a representative from the National Party (the extreme conservative party of JOH), who justified the bill by claiming “the use of technology by the majority of the population provokes an exchange of opinions on social media which has formed an environment of confrontation in a special way .”

The right wing recognizes the fundamental role social media has played in Honduras in spreading information, denouncements, videos, calls to mobilization and helping foster a climate of rebelliousness. Social media is even more important in Honduras where there is not much alternative media and those that do exist suffer systematic attacks.

This bill was immediately denounced by the opposition both in Congress and on the streets by the movements as being a “cyber-gag law” which attempts to silence the thousands, millions of users of social media who challenge the hegemonic discourse that is forged between the traditional mainstream media and the government.

Unsurprisingly this blatant attack on civil liberties and freedom of expression has not received international outrage as it might have if Honduras were Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria or Iran.

Protests continue, repression does too

Meanwhile, the protests continue across the territory of Honduras as people declare Honduras in a state of “ungovernability,” continuing the blockages of major arteries, rallies and marches in the major cities. Unfortunately, despite the discourses of “national dialogue” and “peace” spreaded by the government, they continue the brutal repression of the mobilizations. Since the elections, the number of people killed by Government Forces in the midst of the protests has risen to 40 and many of the people who were detained remain in prison.

This is the latest update on comrade and Long-time Honduran activist Edwin Robelo Espinal who was arrested by police on January 19, on the eve of a week-long nationwide strike. Edwin faces a laundry list of trumped up charges: arson; property damage; and use of homemade explosive material. Edwin is also under State investigation for terrorism and criminal association related to damages to the Marriott Hotel, a multi-billion dollar US chain, during a January 12 protest in Tegucigalpa.

UPDATE #1: Edwin Espinal & Other Political Prisoners in Honduras

On January 22, Honduran judge Claudio Elvir, ordered pre-trial detention for two Honduran political prisoners, Edwin Espinal and Raul Eduardo Alvarez. Since then, Edwin and Raul are being held in a US-style maximum security prison, La Tolva in southern Honduras. Since then family members and various national and international human rights delegations have been unable to verify the conditions of their detention. Visits by family members are extremely restrictive and often have to wait several months to get permission to enter.

International Human Rights Observers Denied Entry Into Honduran Prison

On Wednesday, five international human rights defenders and accompaniers (three from the US faith-based delegation) along with the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) attempted to enter the prison. The purpose of the visit to the prison was to enter and see Edwin and verify the conditions of his detention and his physical and emotional health.

After waiting over 5 hours, the five international defenders finally spoke to military coronel Najera who oversees the prison and who refused to allow the observers to enter. Coronel Najera made several arguments against the international defenders entering to see Edwin despite their insistence that they had come specifically to accompany COFADEH to talk to Edwin.

Citing several laws of Honduras, Coronel Najera ridiculed the international defenders and specifically, Karol Cardenas of COFADEH (Edwin’s legal representation), for not explaining Honduran laws to the delegation. Drawing on the façade of institutionality and the so-called rule of law, the Coronel would not budge. The international human rights delegation spend the entire day trying to enter the prison and despite their efforts, were turned away. The US Embassy, who met with the members of the faith-based delegation, was notified.

Attorney Karol Cardenas from COFADEH was able to enter to see Edwin for one hour. She met briefly with Edwin but was not taken to his cell to inspect or verify the conditions. She was unable to take in food or reading material. According to what Edwin told Karol, he is being held in a very small cell basically in isolation. He is allowed outside for two hours a day and spends the rest of the time by himself. There is a small window inside his cell that looks out to a cement wall.

Honduran Institutions Not Responding to Urgent Requests by Human Rights Groups

Since Edwin’s detention, representatives of COFADEH have requested a meeting with the Honduran institution that oversees the prison system – the National Penitentiary Institute (INP). The purpose of speaking to the INP is to ensure they are taking all necessarily measures to guarantee Edwin’s integrity and life while in prison (as per the state’s obligations since Edwin was granted protective measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as a result of state persecution against him). The other reasons for meeting with the INP are to request for Edwin to be transferred to another detention center; and authorize the entrance of human rights representatives and Edwin’s family members into the prison.

In 10 days, the INP did not respond. COFADEH followed up with several phone calls. Finally, on the 10th day, the INP requested a meeting with COFADEH for Thursday (yesterday) at 2 pm in the INP offices in Tegucigalpa. Upon arrival at the office, COFADEH’s General Coordinator Bertha Oliva and three other human rights defenders waited 1.5 hours to be received by the sub-Director who never showed up.

Canadian Government’s Response

Given that the Canadian government endorsed the electoral fraud by recognizing the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez, while ignoring repression, assassinations and illegal detentions of Honduran pro-democracy protesters, we demand that the Canadian government do the following:

  1. Speak to Honduran government and demand that Edwin & other political prisoners to be immediately released and that the charges against Edwin be dropped.
  2. Pending above demand, request that Edwin be transferred to another detention facility and that his case be removed from national jurisdiction courts and transferred to the normal court system.
  3. Verify the conditions of Edwin’s detention by visiting him in prison.

We have received the following response from the Canadian Government: “As promised, we have shared the information provided with our colleagues in Ottawa for their awareness and also to seek guidance on the points you raised.  Unfortunately, we are not in a position to provide definitive responses at this time. We will let you know as soon as we can offer you more information.”

Since 2009, Canada has given several million dollars to the Honduran government (ex. To investigative body ATIC in the Public Prosecutors Office) and the anti-corruption body MACCIH to combat impunity, corruption, and strengthen the rule of law. If Canada is true to its concerns and commitments to these issues, they must send a strong message to the Honduran government that they can not persecute human rights defenders and activists like Edwin. The Canadian government must act on our demands NOW.

US Government Response:

Despite receiving several letters of concern about Edwin and other political prisoners, there has been no official or unofficial response from the US Government about Edwin’s case, political prisoners or the human rights situation in the country in the context of the post-electoral crisis.


Honduras: Nasralla Presents Mediation Demands to UN Mission

By teleSUR

The Honduran Alliance of Opposition against the Dictatorship presented Wednesday six conditions for a United Nations-sponsored mediation with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, a move being led by former presidential candidate and leader of the coalition, Salvador Nasralla who does not recognize the president’s mandate.

The Opposition Alliance announced the conditions through its profiles on social media and said that among the demands is an investigation of human rights violations during the frequent and massive anti-government protests that took place after Hernández was declared a winner by the country’s election authorities. Nasralla sent a team of representatives from his party with the six conditions to a meeting the U.N. mission that arrived into the capital Tegucigalpa Tuesday.

While he called the meeting “fruitful” he did slam the international organization for having “no interest in resolving the crisis” especially after the “bad” message from the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres congratulating Hernandez on his new term as president.

Nasralla is also calling for electoral reforms and sanctions for non-compliance by any party or individuals in case fraud was proven to have taken place in the Nov. 26 general elections by an independent international investigative team.

The opposition also demands an investigation into the more than 30 protesters killed during the protests, appointing mediators by mutual agreement and that the decisions taken are binding on all parties.

Meanwhile ex-president and general coordinator of the Opposition Alliance Manuel Zelaya told Radio HRN that “there is no institutionality in the country, that is why we have asked for international mediation and before them we can express the problem, because we do not want a dialogue with government.”

The U.N.’s mission is scheduled to meet Thursday with other social sectors in the country. On Friday, the mission will meet with Hernandez and on Saturday the delegation will return to New York to present a report to the U.N. Secretary General.


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