La Voz de Zacate Grande, a new community radio station based in southern Honduras, faces possible closure tomorrow on charges of “usurping land” and “deceiving the public administration” when a court is to hear allegations by local businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum that it is broadcasting on an illegal frequency from land he claims to own.
Every since it started broadcasting on 14 April, the small station and the Zacate Grande community have been subject to systematic intimidation by local police officers and security guards employed by Facussé because the station has been defending the cause of the Zacate Grande Peninsula Development Association, which is embroiled in a land dispute with Facussé (see 21 April release).
The closure threat comes at a disastrous time for press freedom in Honduras, which has suddenly become the western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media with a total of seven journalists killed since early March.
The Honduran media have been exposed to constant harassment since the 28 June 2009 coup d’état. The death threats have recently increased in intensity against Ismael Moreno, the head of Radio Progreso, a radio station based in northern Honduras, and one of his reporters, Gerardo Chévez. Reporters Without Borders holds the authorities responsible for their safety.
21.04.2010 - Seventh journalist shot dead in increasingly alarming climate
Georgino Orellana is the seventh Honduran journalist to be murdered in the past six weeks. A programme producer and presenter for Televisión de Honduras, Orellana was slain by a single shot to the head fired by an unidentified person who was waiting outside when he left the station’s studios in San Pedro Sula last night.
Honduras has been the world’s deadliest country for the media since the start of this year. Three journalists have fled abroad to escape the wave of violence.
Orellana’s killer left the scene immediately after last night’s shooting and the motive is not yet known. A university teacher as well as a journalist, Orellana used to work for the privately-owned broadcasting group Televicentro. Reporters Without Borders offers its condolences to his family and colleagues.
San Pedro Sula police chief Héctor Iván Mejía insisted that his murder “will not go unpunished.” But, despite recent government promises, justice has not been rendered in any of the attacks on the press since the June 2009 coup d’état, whether they were linked to the coup or not. Already bad because of the high level of criminal violence, the plight of journalists has got much worse since the coup.
One of example of this is the threats against the staff of Radio Progreso, which was occupied by the army in the hours following the coup to prevent it broadcasting any information about the president’s ouster. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Radio Progreso’s management preferred, for safety reasons, not to name the journalists and contributors who have received threats.
Community radio station La Voz de Zacate Grande was meanwhile subjected to intimidation yesterday by local police officers and security guards employed by businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum because it has been defending the cause of the Zacate Grande Peninsula Development Association, which is embroiled in a land dispute with Facussé.
According to the Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre), a Honduran NGO, shots were fired at local TV station Canal 40 in the Atlantic-coast town of Tocoa on 9 April. Journalist and presenter Emilio Oviedo Reyes believes the shots were fired by two individuals who have been targeting him since the coup.
It was Oviedo who alerted the police when fellow TV journalist Nahúm Palacios was gunned down in Tocoa on 14 March. It seems probable that Palacios was killed in connection with his work.
Finally, a criminal court in Tegucigalpa acquitted four officials with the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), including its former chairman, Miguel Ángel Rodas, on 12 April on charges of abuse of authority for ordering the closure of Radio Globo and Cholusat TV (Canal 36) – the two media that had voiced the most criticism of the coup – and seizing equipment from them. This took place last September, when the de facto government declared a state of siege after ousted President Manuel Zelaya secretly reentered the country.
The court’s president judge, Martha Murillo, ruled that freedom of expression “was not obstructed in a situation of state of exception.” Article 73 of the Honduran constitution nonetheless takes the position that freedom of expression is paramount and forbids any confiscation of equipment from a news media or any interruption of its work. This constitutional guarantee cannot be suspended by a state of siege, C-Libre points out.