Fundamental freedoms restricted in Honduras as socio-political crisis escalates

On 26th November 2017, presidential elections were held in Honduras. A week after election day, the electoral commission declared President Juan Orlando Hernández the winner. However, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) has called for new elections to be held to "guarantee peace and coexistence". International observers also reported irregularities in the electoral process, "casting serious doubt on the legitimacy of the elections". 

Several civic space violations have taken place since the elections as people take to the streets in protest. Details on the violations are explained in detail below. 

Association

Prior to the 26th November election, three political activists from opposition parties were killed. On 20th October, Islia Raquel Portillo was murdered in La Ceiba, a northern region of Honduras, after participating in the party’s closing event of the campaign. Portillo was an activist from the liberal party, the main opposition party. On 21st October, Jose Mario Discua, a supporter of the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, was murdered in Comayagua, the central region of Honduras. The same day, Jose Gonzalo Castillo, an activist of Partido Libre, was murdered in La Paz. No suspects have been arrested and the motives behind these murders have yet to be determined.

After the election, the situation for human rights defenders has remained hostile. Local CSO Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ) reported on 8th December that heavily armed officers raided the offices where the organisation conducts its meetings and workshops. The explanation given by the authorities was that they were searching for weapons supposedly used during the series of protests that followed the election. They also kept asking for the location of Martin Fernandez, general coordinator of the organisation. MADJ also reported that some of their members’ houses were raided.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests erupted after the election when inconsistencies were found in how the results were reported. Plataforma del Movimiento Social y Popular en Honduras (PMSPH), a national network of CSOs, published a collaborative map that displays the protests in the country from 30th November to 17th December. The map shows at least 323 protests and at least 32 cases of repression of protests.

Repression of the protests in the country led to several protesters being killed and many others injured. Local organisation COFADEH reports that 14 people were killed during the series of protests that took place from 30th November until December 5th, and over 800 people were arrested.

On 1st December, the government declared a ten-day state of emergency, suspending fundamental rights. According to Amnesty International, "the curfew, which has been amended twice in terms of its time and geographical reach since initially issued, does not follow international law provisions and seems too broad to handle limited cases of violence". During the curfew, Amnesty stated that "security forces operated with the greatest impunity". 

In addition, Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras (COPINH), the organisation founded by Berta Caceres, reported that on 12th December, police stopped a bus with members of COPINH who were heading to a protest to reject what they consider electoral fraud. They reported that the officers took photos of everyone’s national ID. No one was arrested and one car was confiscated.

On 15th December, the Ombudsman presented his report on the post-electoral crisis in the country which documented 16 deaths during the protests. No one has yet been held responsible for these deaths.

After the Supreme Electoral Court confirmed the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez on 17th December, protests began again in the country. After the announcement, on 18th December another protester was shot dead, apparently by a member of the military.

Members of the Afro-descendant community Garifuna were also subject to police repression after the Court's announcement. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used to block the entrance to their town of Sambo Creek and to disperse their local protest.

Expression

On 5th December, the Inter-American Press Association reported several attacks against freedom of expression in Honduras after the 26th November election. For example, three foreign journalists were not allowed to enter the country to report on the social and political crisis. In addition, two local and one foreign journalist reported they were physically attacked by police officers while covering the protests. 

On 11th December, radio station Radio Progreso reported that their radio signal had been shut down. Then they were informed that the antenna they use to broadcast had fallen. Radio Progreso considers this an attack on freedom of expression as the antenna was in a place with others but only the one they used was affected. The Radio believes the act to be in retaliation for their constant criticism of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez, especially now with reports of alleged electoral fraud .

On 11th December, journalist Josue Neptali Rubi Corrales was arrested while filming the protest taking place in Nacaome, south of Honduras. Masked officers arrested him while he was talking with an opposition leader. He was arrested for almost 12 hours until a local CSO presented a habeas corpus that led to his release.

Reporters Without Borders expressed its concern over the decision by the National Police of Honduras to remove the protection measures on Jairo Lopez. Lopez is a journalist who has been threatened since 2015 for reporting several cases of corruption among public officials. The authorities explained that the decision came after Lopez was supposedly promoting the protests against President Juan Orlando Hernandez, showing his dissent towards the government.