Changes to criminal code restrict citizens' right to peaceful assembly
In September 2017, new changes to the Criminal Code were approved. Changes made to article 590 could potentially restrict freedom of peaceful assembly. The article establishes that a "terrorist organisation" can exist when two or more people get together to "seriously subvert the constitutional order" or "to provoke a state of terror in the population or part of it". Civil society organisations asserted that this particular article could be use to criminalise social protests. As previously reported on the Monitor, in February 2017 others reforms were made to the Criminal Code that civil society claimed constituted "a mechanism to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly".
In addition, the right to peaceful protest continues to be undermined by security forces. Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras reported that on 29th August 2017, while the community of Villa de San Francisco gathered to protest against the installation of an electrical cable in their community, the police dispersed the demonstrators using tear gas. It was also reported that at least six protesters were detained.
In another incident, Comite por la Libertad de Expresion reported the criminalisation of 14 residents of Namasigue who had protested against the installation of a solar energy project that was implemented without consulting the community.
As previously reported in the Monitor, the criminalisation of student protests continues in Honduras. It was reported that on 8th September 2017, security forces dispersed a protest at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras and arrested several of the students.
Environmental activists and student leaders continue to be subject to intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detention.
On 20th September 2017, activist Jose Alfredo Rodriguez was murdered. He was a leader of a farmers' movement that is currently in a land dispute with a private company. Farmers who live in the area where Rodriguez was murdered claim that members of the Armed Forces are responsible for the attack.
On 11th August, a judge ordered restrictive measures to be placed against a group of community leaders who were arrested the day before during an eviction process. Their community is in a dispute over a hydroelectric power project with the company HIDROCEP which they say will contaminate their water source. The measures ordered by the judge include a travel ban and restrictions on participating in peaceful protests or any public activities in the area.
Journalists continue to work in a dangerous environment in Honduras. On 13th September, journalist Carlos Willian Flores was murdered by unknown men in Omoa. Flores hosted a TV programme in which he often took a "critical stance toward the extractive industry sector in the region of Cuyamelito, Cuyamel, and Rio Motagua". The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement calling the State of Honduras to:
"conduct a complete, effective, and impartial investigation into this crime, establish the motives, and determine judicially its potential relationship to the victim’s journalistic activity and freedom of expression. Authorities should not rule out the practice of journalism as a motive for the murder and/or assault before the investigation has been completed, and should provide the institutions responsible for investigating these types of matters with adequate resources and specialized personnel".
On 23rd September, Victor Manuel Pineda, a journalist and candidate to the National Assembly, was released after being abducted and held for over a month. Pineda currently hosts a TV show call "Sin Tabu".
Another change to the Criminal Code was made only a day after the one mentioned in the peaceful assembly section above. On 21st September, the National Assembly modified the article 557, which now states that anyone who repeatedly publishes false information that frightens citizens and endangers the life, health or property of an individual can be sentenced from one to three years in prison.