Honduras: repression of protests and criminalisation of defamation concern civil society
Protests against new laws that affect the education and health sectors persisted in May 2019. As previously reported on the Monitor, protesters took to the streets against a reform approved in Parliament on 25th April 2019, which was criticised as a step toward the dismantling of these public systems and their privatisation. The police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and at least three people were reportedly injured by bullets in protests on 30th May 2019. Demonstrators have also clashed with police officers, with some protesters burning tyres and cars.
President Juan Orlando Hernández repealed the decrees in early June after protests calling for his resignation, but demonstrations continued. On 6th June 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over the use of force in these demonstrations, recalling Honduras’ obligation to respect and guarantee people’s right to peaceful assembly.
Amenazas de muerte a Rosalina Domínguez y más miembros de la comunidad de Río Blanco son el resultado de la imposición del Proyecto Agua Zarca.#NoMasProyectosExtractivos#EstoNoEsDesarrollo#CopinhSigue— COPINH (@COPINHHONDURAS) May 14, 2019
On 16th May 2019, the CSO Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras - COPINH) denounced that members from the Río Blanco community have been subjected to systematic threats against their lives, acts of intimidation and violence. As previously reported on the Monitor, defender Rosalina Domínguez received death threats from a group of armed individuals at the end of April. On 15th May 2019, an individual involved in previous harassment incidents prevented her passage and punctured the tyres of her car. According to COPINH, the community has presented more than twenty-one complaints of harassment to the Public Prosecutor in the past three years but has not received any response. Meanwhile civil society continues to call for the implementation of protection mechanisms by the Honduran government.
Honduras’ new Criminal Code, published on 10th May 2019, extends sanctions for “crimes against honour”, with prison sentences for writing, replicating or disseminating slander and libel. According to Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Free Expression - C-Libre), the new code has harsher provisions for such crimes than the previous one.
On 24th May 2019, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern about the criminalisation of journalistic work in Honduras. It urged the government to review the Criminal Code to decriminalise defamation, libel and slander, rendering these as civil offences. In the statement, the OHCHR highlighted that criminal defamation can be used to silence criticism, rather than to protect people’s honour and reputation.