Although nearly a year has gone by since the coup d’état of 28 June 2009, the authorities continue to adopt arbitrary repressive measures against opposition and community news media. The latest example is yesterday morning’s assault by troops and police on La Voz de Zacate Grande 97.1 FM, a community radio in the southern peninsula of Zacate Grande.
Armed with a warrant for the arrest of five peasant leaders, around 300 soldiers and police invaded the community and shut down its radio. Yellow tape bearing with the words “crime scene” now surrounds the small station, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) said.
Military occupation of news media before an official closure order was issued was typical of the methods used at the time of the coup. It was the procedure used to force Radio Progreso off the air just a few hours after President Manuel Zelaya’s ouster .
The same procedure was followed when Radio Globo and Canal 36-Cholusat were closed during the state of siege that was declared in September in response to Zelaya’s clandestine return, and when cable TV antennae were seized in order to censor the foreign media .
The only possible explanation for yesterday’s raid was the desire to silence a radio station that spoke for a community involved in serious land dispute, just as the only possible explanation for the crime scene tape was to criminalise the people and their radio. Whether La Voz de Zacate Grande is paying the price for the land dispute or whether it is the primary target of this persecution, this is political censorship and a violation of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
At the same time, Honduran legislation still fails to meet international standards regarding community media.
La Voz de Zacate Grande, which began broadcasting on 14 April, defends the cause of the Association for the Development of the Zacate Grande Peninsula (ADEPZA), whose representatives are accused by agro-industrial tycoon Miguel Facussé Barjum of occupying “his“ land and “tax fraud.” Its closure took place as the police executed warrants issued by the local judicial authorities for the arrest of five ADEPZA leaders.
Already deteriorated since the coup, the situation of media pluralism and press freedom has got worse since the installation of a new government on 27 January. Honduras has become the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in the past six months. The murders of six journalists and a presenter in the space of a month and a half have been followed by little progress in the investigations.
A warrant has, it is true, been issued for the arrest of four individuals accused of being the perpetrators and instigators of radio journalist David Meza Montesinos’ murder on 11 March in the Atlantic coast town of Ceiba. But there have been no developments in the murder of his colleague, Nahum Palacios Arteaga, who was gunned down three days later following threats believed to have come from the army.
This last case is the only one that has been included in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom barometer because it is the only one in which a link has been clearly established with the victim’s work as a journalist.
The authorities systematically exclude any link between these serious violations of free expression and the political violence of the past year. So how will they respond to the two resolutions adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on 3 May and 2 June, urging them to guarantee the safety of 15 threatened Radio Progreso journalists, who include the station’s director, Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, and its news editor, Karla Rivas? The station and its staff have been targeted because of their political and editorial positions.
Reporters Without Borders is maintaining contact with these people and holds the Honduran authorities responsible for their safety. The government cannot expect to be readmitted to the Organization of American States if it persists in its denial, or worst still, its complicity in certain violations. It should accept the principle of an independent international commission of enquiry.