Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Media, Freedom Of Expression Suffer In Hounduras' Post-election Violence

Protestor hit by teargas cannister (Pic courtesy Rebel Reporting)


Hopes that the November 24 presidential election would usher in an era of democratic governance and respect for human rights – especially freedom of expression and information – suffered a setback after rival candidates claimed victory at the polls that resulted in street violence, where journalists also became victims.


 The election – the first since a 2009 coup that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power – witnessed two rival candidates, Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya of the left-leaning Libre Party, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party claiming victory.

Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced Hernandez’s victory 34% to 29%, with 68% of the votes counted by early Wednesday, Castro denounced the results claiming massive electoral fraud.

 “‘[t]he TSE (electoral council) hid 19 percent of the ballots on election night which altered the outcome,’ Zelaya wrote on his Twitter account. ‘Within 48 hours results from around the country will be in’ and the alleged fraud will be ironed out, he said,” reported Agence France Press (AFP).

‘We will confirm our victory, and if it were the opposite, we also would acknowledge it,’ Zelaya said warning: ‘Nobody should speculate; we will look at the dimensions of the fraud – and what was properly done,” AFP continued.

The controversy sparked clashes in Tegucigalpa between the police and university students demonstrating in support of Castro. “About 100 police in helmets and riot gear used gas and then truncheons to beat the chanting youths and send them scrambling. Students fled from police, running to their nearby campus, and at the entrance gates authorities lobbed more tear gas at them,” AFP said.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said two journalists, photographer Mario Fajardo (La Tribuna) and correspondent VĂ­ctoria Aguilar (Globo TV) had lost consciousness due to exposure to teargas during standoff. On November 22, Cesar Obando Flores (radio station Libre Estereo) complained of receiving death threat over the telephone demanding that he halts election coverage, RSF said.

“We call for an end to acts of intimidation and violence against journalists and we urge both the government and the opposition to respect their work,” RSF said. “The authorities must guarantee the safety of journalists and must punish the police officers responsible for so much violence.”

Beyond attacks on journalists, police action against the university students is also an assault on freedom of expression. The website Rebel Reporting said, “The protests started at around noon outside of the gates of the university.  Several hundred students reportedly blocked traffic.  Soon after, police arrived and, using force and teargas drove the students back through the university gates.  Once the students were locked in, the cops continued to use teargas and long, heavy sticks (rather than traditional batons) to beat students.

“The tear gas was produced in the U.S.  Much of that used was military-grade gas. No one was allowed to leave the university during the violence, as the police brutally attacked and the protesters made occasional attempt to defend themselves by throwing stones. Many were trapped inside the university some who were not even originally part of the protest, with no way out,” Rebel Reporting said.

Although the election is disputed by Castro and her party, AFP said, “The governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica congratulated Hernandez. Nicaragua's leftist President Daniel Ortega also recognized Hernandez as the winner. European Union and Organization of American States observers called Sunday’s voting process transparent and non-problematic.”

AFP also noted that Zelaya was elected president in 2005, but when he showed an inclination to move leftward politically by reforming the constitution and was deposed in the 2009 coup, there was “no vocal or active opposition from the United States – a fact that deeply undermined US credibility.”

On November 19, RSF called for “overhaul of the entire media.” It said that attacks on journalists and other human rights defenders in Honduras have taken place against a background of generalised violence. The media watchdog demanded, “The protection of journalists and other news providers and the fight against impunity need to be addressed during the next parliamentary period.”

The 2011 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was Honduras’s Karla Rivas, news director of Radio Progresso. Before the election RSF interviewed her on the state of the media in Honduras.

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