Activists attacked and arrested while impunity prevails
ALERTA: DETIENEN A DIRECTIVO DE LA ORGANIZACIÓN FRATERNAL NEGRA DE HONDURAS— RedefensorasHonduras (@redefensorashn) May 19, 2017
Cesar Geovany Bernardez, dirigente Garífuna fue detenido. pic.twitter.com/BOEsClc0Du
The situation for land activists in Honduras continues to worsen. In recent months, activists have been arrested for their work with indigenous communities protecting their land. The director of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña - OFRANEH (Honduran Black Fraternity Organisation), Cesar Geovany Bernardez, was arrested on 18th May 2017 and charged with illegal occupation of land. Bernardez appeared in court the next day and was later released but is now banned from traveling outside the country. As an organisation, OFRANEH is currently advocating to secure the right of the indigenous Garifuna communities to maintain and preserve their lands.
Under the same charges of usurping land, Plataforma Agraria Regional del Valle del Aguán condemned a Honduran judge's decision to issue an arrest warrant for nine of their community leaders.
In addition to land rights activists being persecuted, many human rights defenders and trade unions face serious hostilities in Honduras. On 13th April 2017, two members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (Union of Agricultural Workers) were attacked by four men. One of the union members, Misael Sanchez, was wounded in the face with a machete. The victims reported that the assailants told the union members to stop their union work or else face further repercussions.
On 7th April 2017, human rights defender Hedme Castro reported that her car was sabotaged and the tyres damaged. Although the perpetrators remain unknown, Castro has previously been the victim of harassment by state authorities for her work monitoring the human rights situation in the country, suggesting that this act of intimidation could be connected to her work.
Unfortunately, the government has not shown any commitment to improving the situation for defenders and ending impunity in cases where activists have been murder. For example, in the case of Berta Caceres, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for a meeting with human rights defenders and Caceres’s legal team; however, the Prosecutor's Office did not attend the meeting. Moreover, after more than a year since the murder took place, the preliminary hearing finally took place in June 2017. Caceres's former organisation expressed its concern over this and other irregularities with the investigation into the activist's murder.
In the last two months, several protests have taken place in Honduras. On 24th April, high school students gathered to petition the government on educational reform. After a group of individuals – reportedly unrelated to the students protest - started throwing rocks, the police responded using tear gas to disperse the protest. Five students were arrested.
Another student protest took place on 2nd May 2017 and according to reports, police used tear gas against the protesters, and at least one student was injured.
As reported on the Monitor, the criminalisation of protests, especially student protests, is common in Honduras. In a similar incident, on 25th May, students from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (Autonomous University of Honduras) were arrested and charged with damages to university property. The students were first detained by the university's private security and then handed over to the police. After the preliminary hearing, the judge released them but imposed a travel ban on them, among other measures.
In a separate incident, on 25th April 2017 the Platform “Somos Muchas” gathered to petition for the removal of penalties for having an abortion. According to reports, groups opposing abortion disrupted the gathering. The organisation IM-Defensoras condemned the disruptions and called on the government to exercise its duty to protect and guarantee everyone the right to protest peacefully and without interference.
Attacks against media professionals and journalists continue to occur with impunity. According to the Office of the Ombudsman, there were 69 documented cases of journalists killed between 2001 and 2017, and 91 percent of those cases have not been resolved nor the perpetrators held accountable.
On 31st May 2017, cameraman René Alberto Ortega was shot several times while driving to his home. The motive behind the attack has not been identified. The Ombudsman has requested protection measures for Ortega who remains in critical condition.
And during the student protests described under Peaceful Assembly, journalist Ronnie Huete was arrested while reporting on the protests.