Protests in Honduras have left at least 3 demonstrators dead and several injured

Peaceful Assembly

Protests against education and health reforms in Honduras, organised by teachers’ and health workers' movement Plataforma Nacional en Defensa de la Salud Y Educación (Platform for the Defence of Health and Education), have continued to be met with strong repression in June and July 2019. The protests have become widespread since they began in April 2019, as previously reported by the Monitor.

On 21 June 2019, news outlets reported at least 3 dead and 20 injured in protests across the country. The three victims have been identified by Honduras’ National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH) as Luis Enrique Maldonado, 29, shot in the head during a protest in Tegucigalpa; Erick Peralta, 38, also in Tegucigalpa; and Eblin Noel Corea, a 17-year-old student, shot and killed at a local protest in the region of La Paz.

On 25 June 2019, an anti-government protest at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa ended with five students and two military policemen injured. According to AFP news agency reports, some 40 military police entered the campus and fired tear gas on protesters, who responded by throwing stones. The police then opened fire with rifles.

On 12 July 2019, police entered the campus of Universidad Pedagógica Nacional Francisco Morazán and used tear gas against demonstrators. The gas also affected primary school students in a nearby school. Other educational institutions also reported a heavy police presence on the same day.

On 18 July 2019, the National Police violently intervened in another protest, at the José Trinidad Reyes school, and detained five students and a security guard. According to reports, the police forcefully entered the school to chase after demonstrators and threw “excessive amounts” of tear gas to repress the protest. The school’s director denounced the fact that, as the incident took place during school hours, many students had to run out of their classes because of the tear gas.

The detained students were identified as Angie Grissel Bonilla Hernández, 16, José David Morales Gosselin, 17, Rodiney Zelaya Quintana, 18, Víctor Fernando Trujillo Murillo, 18, Yeison Ariel Almendares, 19, and security guard Mario Roberto Sánchez. Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice – MADJ), giving them legal support, stated that the group was released on 19 July 2019. However, one of the students, José Morales, was accused of “aggravated damage” and had to respond in a criminal case. National and international human rights organisations condemned the police repression and demanded that the government drop the case against Morales. On 9 August 2019, Morales was cleared of the charges.

Association

On 17 May 2019, Honduran state authorities filed an indictment against nine indigenous Tolupan land defenders, accused of “obstructing a forest management plan”. Over 100 organisations worldwide condemned this attempt to criminalise Tolupan indigenous leaders in Honduras, viewing the indictment as retaliation for the work these nine leaders undertake in defence of their territory and natural assets. In 2010 and 2012, other Tolupan leaders were prosecuted on the same charge – in both cases, defendants were found not guilty and charges were eventually dropped.

The case’s initial hearing, scheduled to take place on 24 June 2017, was suspended and rescheduled for 3 July 2019. This second date was also cancelled due to the court’s vacation. According to MADJ, engaged in the indigenous leaders’ legal defence, this goes against the country’s Code of Procedure (Art. 128) which asserts that “for the practice of the preparatory stage and intermediate stage, all the days of the year and 24 hours of the day are considered as working hours”. While waiting for a date for their initial hearing, the indigenous defenders are prohibited from approaching their tribe’s territory, are obliged to appear at the courthouse twice a month and will be under police surveillance.

In a separate case, on 7 July 2019, trans activist Bessy Ferrera was shot and killed in Comayagüela. Human rights organisation Voces Defensoras stated that two men in a vehicle repeatedly shot at Bessy and a person she was with. Bessy was killed instantly and the second victim was injured and taken to a hospital. The activist was a member of a trans collective of Asociación Arcoiris, whose members defending trans rights in Honduras have been through many incidents of "defamation, vigilance, intimidation and threats with firearms". The Association has resorted to the National Protection Mechanism for support in protecting defenders. IM-Defensoras and the Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras (National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Honduras) have condemned the crime and demanded an expedited investigation.

Another grave incident occurred on 31 July 2019, when environmental defender Rosalina Domínguez was threatened with a machete by former employees of energy company DESA. Domínguez is a local leader in Lenca de Río Blanco and a member of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras - COPINH). Her work defending the land and environmental rights of her community has made her a target of harassment and threats since April 2019. On 16 July 2019, COPINH denounced the fact that persons linked to DESA had destroyed all corn crops of the Rio Blanco community, affecting 25 families. In this recent incident, Domínguez was ambushed and threatened while she was on her way home with a companion and her two children. The harassers reportedly said "from here you will not pass" and "this one is a witch like Berta", referencing Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous activist killed in March 2016 whose murder was found by Honduran courts to have been ordered by DESA executives. Berta Cáceres and Rosaline Domínguez were close allies when Berta was alive, as they worked to resist the Agua Zarca dam project in their region. Human rights organisation IM-Defensoras has highlighted that the systematic and repeated nature of the threats against Domínguez reveals a high risk situation, and called on the international community and Honduran government to ensure her safety.

Expression

On 6 July 2019, journalist and transperson, Santiago Carbajal, was shot and killed in the region of Cortés. According to a statement by the Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Free Expression - C-Libre), Carbajal’s programme "La Galaxia de Santi" had been censored and the journalist had received death threats. The Red de Periodistas y Comunicadores Sociales (Network of Journalists and Social Communicators) stated that the attack on Carbajal was likely premeditated because it happened as the communicator was going to another television station’s studio, where she went every Friday to participate as a guest in a programme. Carbajal's mother stated that the journalist had had an attempt on her life in 2018, and had reported this incident to the police. Organisations in Puerto Cortés stated that "Santi”, as the journalist was known, was at double risk due to her controversial show and participation in the LGBTI community. According to information provided by C-Libre, 78 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2001 – over 90 per cent of these cases have remained unpunished. On 12 July 2019, media outlets reported that a suspect had been arrested in connection to the journalist's murder. At the time of this update's writing, the police had not clarified the motive for the crime.

On 12 July 2019, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras issued a statement expressing concern about the country’s new Criminal Code, whose final text was published in May 2019. “The legislation contains disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, in addition to provisions whose wording may affect the right to protest and defend human rights in the country,” said the statement. The organisations called for a review of the legislation, in accordance with international human rights standards. On 30 July 2019, the Colegio Periodista de Honduras (Honduran Journalists' Association - CPH) met with Congressman Mario Pérez, representative of the National Congress of Honduras, to discuss their concerns and observations on this new Criminal Code. The CPH presented a document outlining their requests, including the removal of six articles, and Pérez promised the creation of a working group to analyse the demands from journalists and other actors who have provided opinions on the Code.