Rights activists' lives in constant danger
On 20th February 2017, almost a year after the murder of indigenous rights leader, Berta Cáceres, another indigenous leader, Jose de los Santos Sevilla, was found murdered. Many believe his assassination was connected to his efforts to protect indigenous communities' land rights.
On 3rd March 2017, Amnesty International reported on the issue of ongoing defamation campaigns against human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country, including against members of Cáceres’ organisation, Consejo Cívico de Organizacines Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH). In addition, in early April 2017 the Honduran organisation - ACI Participa - denounced the continued stigmatisation of HRDs and domestic and international organisations.
Activists in Honduras have also been victims of harassment, judicial and otherwise for their civil society and human rights work. Several such instances include the following:
- On 28th February 2017, Suyapa Martínez, Director of the Centre of Women's Studies - Honduras, was sued by a private company she had accused of being connected to Cáceres' murder. On 20th March 2017, however, the court ruled that the company had no legitimate case against Martínez.
- Irma Lemus Amaya, a rights defender from the Observatorio Permanente de Derechos Humanos en el Aguán, was detained for several hours in connection to a case against her that had been resolved in her favour in 2014.
- On 2nd February 2017, Global Witness representative, Billy Kyte, was escorted by a member of the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights while leaving a TV studio, as a group was waiting outside the studio to physically attack him. Civil society representatives believe the planned assault was motivated by the recent report by Global Witness describing Honduras as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists.
On 4th April 2017, the body of trans-gender activist, Sherlyn Montoya, was discovered with physical signs of strangulation and torture. Montoya was a member of the LGBTI rights organisation, Muñecas de Arcoiris. Hers was the seventh murder of members of the organisation since 2015, and was condemned by civil society as a hate crime.
Donny Reyes, general coordinator at Asociación LGBT Arcoiris, expressed deep concern over the activist's murder, stating:
“What is happening in Honduras still does not have a name; it is simply savagery in the extreme expression of evil and lack of respect for life. [...] And this is based in three elements. 1) Religious fundamentalism in the name of God that comes from the pulpits and urges governments to discriminate and (promote) hate against LGTB people. 2) The press that contributes and promotes this hate and 3) Last but not least the state itself by not, at the very least, taking positive actions to punish all of those who commit these terrible crimes”.
In February 2017, the National Assembly of Honduras approved a presidential initiative introducing controversial amendments to the country's Criminal Code. Specifically, Article 335 was modified to include a broader definition of terrorism that would apply to any participant in demonstrations that lead to damages of public or private property. Civil society claims the new Article is a mechanism to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
On 3rd March 2017, students from the Universidad Autónoma de Honduras demonstrated to demand justice for murdered indigenous activist, Berta Cáceres, and to raise awareness over the growing number of young people dying in street violence. As the police attempted to suppress the protest, the students refused to disperse and several were injured when clashes broke out.
The national journalists' association, Colegio de Periodistas de Honduras (CPH), reported that changes to the Honduran Criminal Code will threaten freedom of expression. CPH released a statement requesting the National Assembly to abolish the changes. After meeting with CPH representatives, however, members of the National Assembly rejected the request. Thus, CPH announced that it will bring the case to the attention of the Supreme Court.
Journalists and media outlets, as well as activists, face persecution for their reporting, especially on controversial issues.On 8th March 2017, five men threw rocks at the office of a COPINH community radio. In turn, COPINH released a statement condemning the attack. In late March 2017, a journalist from a community radio station, Radio Progreso, received death threats.
In addition, Radio Progreso Director, known as Father Melo, became victim of a smear campaign on social media. And another journalist, Jairo Lopez, was also targeted in a campaign on social media, which included a video accusing him of being connected to criminal cartels. The campaign stared after Lopez published a video of a military staff person aiming a gun at a group of civilians.