Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Honduran Authorities Kill Journalists To Send A Message

Manuel Murillo Varela (Pic courtesy RSF)


Targeting of journalists in Honduras, on the increase in recent months as the country’s general elections approach, continued with a freelance cameraman in Tegucigalpa the latest victim. Manuel Murillo Varela’s killing on October 25 comes four months after the abduction and murder of Anibal Barrow’s.

To the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, media freedom in Honduras is of special interest because the third winner of the prize – in 2011 – was Karla Rivas working for Radio Progresso. 



Rivas (R) speaking at award ceremony
 Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC as she accepted the award, Rivas said, “Within this context of high insecurity and institutional arbitrariness, the deaths of journalists and media workers remain in the shadow of impunity, because impunity characterises a society based on the rule of the strongest.”

Violence against journalists has heighted after the military coup of 2009 that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power. A transit point in drug trafficking and political strongmen, Honduras’ journalists have not only been killed but threatened and tortured. The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had told the police to afford Murillo extra protection “after a score of policemen kidnapped and tortured him and a colleague for 24 hours in February 2010.” RSF also said that Murillo had complained “that policemen seeking video footage of demonstrations by opponents of the June 2009 military coup had threatened to kill his family.”

“We call on the authorities to organise a thorough and independent investigation to shed light on all aspects of this murder,” RSF said. “We also call for an end to impunity for all crimes of violence against journalists, because investigations have been slow to produce results.”

Anibal Barrow (Pic. courtesy RSF)

On July 9, the dismembered and partially-burned body of Anibal Barrow was discovered near Villanueva. RSF said it is believed that Barrow was killed on the day he was abducted – June 24 and a sum 15,000 Euros was paid by a “highly-placed person” to hit men. The media watchdog went on to say that four men had been arrested and the police was on the lookout for four others.  

“While the investigation has already produced some results, the murder will remain unpunished as long as the instigators have not been identified and brought to trial,” RSF said.

Following Barrow’s killing the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission Human Rights even called for a special investigative body: “The Office of the Special Rapporteur insists that the State needs to create special investigative bodies and protocols, as well as protection mechanisms designed to ensure the safety of those who are being threatened because of their work in journalism.”

On April 9, Fidelina Sandoval with the radio and television station Globo survived a murder attempt unhurt in Tegucigalpa. RSF berated Honduran authorities for not providing Sandoval protection. RSF attributed the attempt to silence Sandoval was connected to illegal mining interests and land disputes. It called on the government to disarm militias working for these interests if effective end to the murder of journalists with impunity was to be brought to an end.

Fidelina Sandoval (Pic. courtesy RSF)
 “What will Fidelina Sandoval’s fate now be? The secretary of state for justice and the High Commissioner for Human Rights must, as a matter of urgency, put protective measures in place that are appropriate for journalists, as their security is not in any way guaranteed,” said RSF.

Sandoval fled abroad.

In a bid to give context to the killings of journalists among others (Honduras has the highest murder rate in the whole world: 91 to every 1000), the Index on Censorship (IOC) said that criminal gangs, drug cartels and government politicians used the killings to give messages to others.

“Last July, body parts of a man, which appeared to have been partially burnt, floated on a small lagoon near sugar cane fields in San Pedro Sula.  It was the body of Aníbal Barrow … Barrow was a close friend of President Lobo and was the second journalist with known links to the President murdered violently in the last two years. In May 2012, police found the body of Ángel Alfredo Villatoro, also a television broadcaster ...  His body was found dressed with a police special forces uniform.  Nobody understood the uniform and the message.  A few days before Villatoro was kidnapped, the police had taken away bodyguards that had been assigned to the reporter because of death threats.”
 
IOC goes on to say that due to threat the media does not provide context or details in its reportage for the killings, nor is there investigative reporting into the murders because of the connections between the deaths and important political figures that have impunity.

“‘We have examined some cases deeply but can never reach any conclusions,’ said one editor (to IOC). Part of the reason many journalists are afraid to dig too deep in the cases of their dead colleagues is because they fear that in these cases, as in others in Honduras today, the authors could come from political, journalistic or police sectors, who may be operating in tandem with members of organized crime,” says IOC.

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