Civic space violations continue during post-electoral crisis

As previously reported on the Monitor, on 26th November 2017 Honduras held presidential elections.The election results were contested by the opposition and international bodies, such as the Organization of American States, that called for new elections. However, the Supreme Electoral Court confirmed the election results, and Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in as president in late January amid widespread protests. 

Association

In the post-electoral environment, attacks and threats against human rights defenders (HRDs), especially those denouncing the repression of protests, has increased, according to Amnesty International.  Coalición contra la Impunidad (Coalition against Impunity) documented 64 cases of attacks against HRDs since the post-election crisis started. 

For example, Wilmer Paredes, a young leader mobilising people to protest the electoral results, was murdered on 1st January 2018.  According to reports, he was shot several times by assailants in a van. Paredes had been attacked and harassed in the past, which led him to request protection measures from the state.  

On 7th January, it was reported that two unidentified men killed Santos Alvarado in the province of San Pedro Sula. Alvarado was an activist with the opposition party and had been participating in the protest against the alleged electoral fraud. The motive behind his murder has yet to be determined.

In a separate incident, it was reported that police officers arrested Edwin Espinal on 20th January for supposedly participating in a protest in early January in which several businesses and buildings were attacked. Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras stated that this arrest in particular is part of the repressive campaign against opposition leaders, which has grown in its intensity since the November 2017 election. Espinal has been harassed for his opposition to the government since the 2009 coup in Honduras.

Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) denounced several recent attacks against its members. MADJ is a national platform for the eradication of corruption, as well as for the protection of natural resources and human rights. The organisation has been actively participating in the protests against President Juan Orlando Hernandez. The following details MADJ's recent reports on the challenges the organisation has faced around and after the election:

  • MADJ staff - Martin Fernandez and Victor Fernandez - have been subjected to a defamation campaign on social media. The two have been accused of ordering the murder of Wilmer Paredes (whose murder was detailed in the section above). MADJ assures that its staff made efforts to employ the national protection system on Paredes's behalf, but the authorities rejected the request.
  • Ten members of MADJ are accused of illegal usurpation of land after a series of protests in August 2017 in which they opposed the building of a hydroelectric plant. They were scheduled to have their first hearing in 10th January 2018 but it was again postponed.
  • MADJ members - Ramon Fiallos and Geovanny Diaz - were murdered in two different cities on 20th January. Based on eye-witness accounts, police officers are believed to be behind the deaths.

In a statement, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras:

"[E]xpress their deep concern over the threats and harassment against human rights defenders, journalists, and media outlets in the post-electoral context, and urge the State of Honduras to adopt measures to ensure a safe environment in which they can do their work freely".

In a positive development, the government created a Human Rights Secretariat in January 2018. The IACHR welcomed the move, stating that:

"[T]he creation of a Human Rights Secretariat is particularly important given the human rights situation the country has experienced since the elections ... We hope that this agency will have sufficient human and financial resources to carry out its mandate effectively”.

Peaceful Assembly

As reported on the Monitor, protests erupted in the country after the presidential election and continued after the president was sworn in. The Ombudsman presented a report of the post-electoral crisis in the country through 15th January 2018, including 182 complaints of abuses such as death threats, attacks on freedom of expression, and violations of due process. The Public Ministry initiated 29 investigations after the election, mainly for unlawful association, robbery, arson, and damages to private property. In addition, Coalición contra la Impunidad (Coalition against Impunity) presented a report from 26th November 2017 through 23rd January 2018 in which 33 cases of people killed as a result of security forces' use of excessive force were documented. 

In this post-election crisis, the opposition leader and former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla has claimed that the ruling party placed provocateurs to infiltrate opposition-led protests and spark clashes with police. The opposition coalition announced a national strike from 20th to 27th January. On the first day of the national strike, at least 45 roadblocks were placed to disrupt protesters. In addition, police officers opened fire to disperse a protest in the region of Colon on 20th January. Anselmo Villarreal, a local farmer, was passing by during the attack and a bullet hit him. He died on the way to the hospital. Another person was injured as a result of the attack. 

Expression

Journalists have faced threats and attacks for reporting on controversial issues and while covering post-election protests. 

Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Freedom of Expression) reported that on 9th January 2018, journalist Cesar Obando Flores received threats after he had reported on a meeting between a senator from the ruling party and members of the opposition party. He claims he received a phone call with a voice telling him not to publish anything about the meeting.

Rony Martinez, who is a journalist and elected representative of the opposition party, reported being attacked along with two other journalists while covering a protest on 12th January. On 16th January, he filed a lawsuit against the government holding it responsible for this attack.

On 20th January, a reporter of HispanTV in Tegucigalpa was hit when a police officers shot a tear-gas bomb during a mass protest in the country’s capital.

On 23rd January, it was reported that journalist Cesar Omar Silva was banned twice from entering Congress to report on actions taking place there.