Environmental activists face harassment and attacks

Association

The protection of land and environmental rights continues to be a high-risk activity in Honduras. On 25th February 2019, the indigenous activist Salomón Matute and his son Juan Samael Matute were murdered. They were beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted to them by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2013. This decision of the IACHR was based on the risk identified for his work as an environmental rights defender and due to his engagement with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), an organisation which has constantly faced harassment. The police arrested one suspect but no further progress has been reported. 

In a separate case, another land rights defender, Rosalina Dominguez, received death threats on 29th April 2019. During a symbolic act of planting trees in a piece of land currently in dispute with the company Desarrollos Electricos (Electric Developments), a group of armed individuals confronted Dominguez. They threatened that she will be killed just as her colleague Berta Caceres.

In addition, judicial harassment has become a common tactic to interfere with activists’ work. Miriam Miranda, leader of the Afro-descendant organisation OFRANEH, has been summoned on several occasions by the local judicial authorities, apparently for her work in the protection of her community’s land rights. In addition, eight leaders of the Costa Azul community are facing a judicial process for alleged criminal damages to the property of an electric company - Energía Solar Fotovoltaica (Photovoltaic Solar Energy) - as part of their work protecting their only water source. 

13 activists of the Guapinol community, in northern Honduras, are being charged with unlawful association and robbery. The activists were protesting against the mining exploitation of the company Inversiones Pinares as the company intends to work in a natural reserve part of their community. For instance, the environmental activist Juana Carranza is facing a trial since 2007 and since 2012 she has been ordered to appear in front of a judge every 30 days. In November 2018, Carranza was arrested and released a few days after with the same obligations imposed to her back in 2012.

In April 2019, the Consejo Civico Popular de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras (COPINH) expressed concerns that the seven people that the court found guilty on 29th November 2018 for the murder of Berta Caceres have not yet received their sentence. According to local laws, after a person is found guilty, the sentence must be issued within five days. More than 4 months have passed, and no sentence has been determined.

Peaceful Assembly

A series of protests took place in Honduras between late April and early May 2019 as the Congress discussed a new law regarding the social security system. Mostly students and workers of the health sector took to the streets and on several occasions, they tried to march to the Congress building as a sign of protest. Police used roadblocks to prevent protesters from reaching to the Congress and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protests. Additionally, police arrested a number of protesters, and some people were injured, but the exact number is still not known. The IACHR called on the government  and President Juan Orlando Hernandez to respect people’s right to protest. 

On 10th April 2019, reports indicated that police officers shot dead a 17-year-old boy identified as Wilfredo Moncada in the region of Choluteca. The incident occurred in the midst of a demonstration that usually takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays against the government of Juan Orlando Hernández.  

The activist Nivia Vargas reported that on 8th March 2019, during a protest against the President of the Congress, Mauricio Oliva, she was attacked by a group of men who also sexually assaulted her. The activist believes the perpetrators were supporters of the ruling party. Vargas was already forced to move her family from her hometown for the constant threats she is being subject to.

Expression

Journalist David Romero who denounced alleged acts of corruption by the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, including former prosecutor Sonia Gálvez is facing a ten-year sentence for defamation and slander. Romero was arrested on 28th March 2019 by police officers after the Supreme Court ratified the 10 years prison sentence issued by a lower court in 2016. 

On 17th March 2019, journalist Gabriel Hernández was killed while walking towards his home. Reports indicate that he was shot at least six times by an armed individual. Hernández was the presenter of the program "el pueblo habla" where he was critical of the municipality authorities.The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the authorities to: 

"Immediately do everything in their power to investigate the killing of Leonardo Gabriel Hernández, establish the motive, and bring those responsible to justice."