More concerning cases of criminalisation of student protesters and activists

Peaceful Assembly

As reported on the Monitor, the criminalisation of student protests is a growing concern in Honduras, as evidenced by the following recent murders of student activists as well as threats against and arrests of students participating in protests. 

On 23rd June 2017, Roberto Antonio Gomez, father of student activist Andy Johan Gómez Jerónimo, was murdered in the country’s capital Tegucigalpa. According to Frontline Defenders, Antonio Gomez was vocal in denouncing state repression of student-led protests, such as was reported on the Monitor, when students from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) (Autonomous University of Honduras) were charged with damages to university property, after participating in May 2017 student protests. Roberto’s son is one of the students currently facing trial for taking part in the protests. 

On 12th July, Luis Joel Rivera Perdomo, a leader of the student movement at UNAH, was murdered. According to information from Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Rivera was at his home when unidentified men broke into the house, took him outside and shot him. His family reported that they had received death threats, and after Rivera’s murder, they had to leave their home because of continued threats.

To bring greater attention to the hostile environment faced by the student movement at UNAH in recent months, civil society groups issued a statement in June 2017 calling on the authorities to end the criminalisation of student-organised protests and to re-stablish a dialogue with the students' movement.

Tensions have not eased, however, as on 16th June and 25th July 2017, more clashes erupted between police officers and students at UNAH. It was reported that the police used tear gas to disperse the students who were protesting against the criminalisation of protesters and detention of several students from the protests in May. An additional five students were arrested on 16th June.

In addition, three students of UNAH were found guilty of usurpation following a series of protests in 2015 during which they were arrested. However, details of their sentences are unknown as the final court hearing has been postponed twice.

Association

The last Monitor update highlighted several cases wherein activists and human rights defenders (HRDs) were subjected to harassment and intimidation. The situation has only worsened. During the last two months, the lives of four activists have been threatened.

On 30th June 2017, Berta Zuñina Caceres, daughter of murdered activist Berta Caceres, and two other members of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares (Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organisations), were victims of an attack that was intended to kill them. Cáceres, Sotero Chavarría and Asunción Martínez were driving when they stopped on a street that had been blocked. Unidentified persons with machetes tried to attack them, with one of the assailants throwing a rock at their vehicle. The women HRDs managed to escape without being injured. One suspect of this attack has been arrested.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement condemning the attack and calling the State of Honduras to “immediately adopt protection measures to combat the risk factors that give rise to violence against human rights defenders”.

The other activist attacked was David Valle, LGBTI rights defender. On 10th July 2017, an unidentified individual stabbed the activist several times at his house. Valle was taken to a hospital by his roommate and is now being protected in the hospital by other members of his organisation. 

As featured on the Monitor, land rights defender Cesar Bernandez is facing trial on charges of illegal occupation of land. He is not the only one in such a situation. On 20th June 2017, leaders of La Jarcia community had their first hearing regarding an alleged case of land usurpation. According to reports, the community was offered a pardon if they abandoned the land; however, the community refused to do so.

On 31 July 2017, Afro-descendant community leaders Miriam Miranda, Madeline Martina David, Neny Heydy Avila and Letty Bernardez and members of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (Honduran Black Fraternity Organisation), were sued for defamation by Patrick Daniel Forseth and Randy Jorgensen, representatives of a company that is trying to build a tourism project in lands belonging to their community. 

Expression

On 15th June 2017, journalist and congressional candidate Victor Funez was murdered in La Ceiba, Honduras. According to the information available on the case, the journalist was shot twice by unknown assailant on a motorcycle. It was later reported that the perpetrator was arrested by the police. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement urging the authorities to “investigate fully, effectively and impartially these crimes that affect all Honduran society and to clarify its motives, and judicially determine the relationship they may have with journalistic activity and freedom of expression”. 

Community radios continue to be subjected to intimidation and harassment. For example, community radio Waruguma received a notification from state-run media regulator CONATEL with threats of forced closure of the radio. Furthermore, student radio show “UNAH VOZ” was canceled when the cooperation agreement with Radio Progreso was voided.