Archive for May, 2018

Honduran Jesuit, delegation plead for end to U.S. military aid

Honduran Jesuit, delegation plead for end to U.S. military aid

Honduran Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno Coto, better known as “Padre Melo,” is seen near the U.S. Capitol in Washington May 17. (Credit: Rhina Guidos/CNS.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of Hondurans led by a Jesuit priest pleaded with U.S. lawmakers May 17 to stop military aid to the Central American nation and to allow the country’s citizens living under a particular immigration status in the U.S. to remain here until conditions improve in their native country.

“We need you to support them so that they continue living in the United States because their return to our country is dangerous,” said Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, who traveled with a group of five Hondurans to 10 cities in the United States.

They spoke to groups and organizations hoping to garner support for some 57,000 Hondurans benefiting from the Temporary Protection Status program, which the Trump administration said would end in 2020, but also for a bill named after one of Moreno’s friends, a human rights activist killed in 2016 in Honduras.

Just outside the U.S. Capitol, Georgia Congressman Henry “Hank” Johnson joined Moreno, popularly known as Father Melo, to speak about the Berta Caceres Act, which would cut U.S. military aid to the present government of Honduras led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Estimates put U.S. aid to Honduras targeted for “security” at between $18 million to $22 million in 2015. Many of those gathered have for years questioned whether the U.S. should be giving money to Hernandez and his administration.

Though the constitution in Honduras limited its president to serve a one-time, six-year term, Hernandez sought and snatched a second term late last year and began that second term under a cloud of illegitimacy and calls for his resignation that have never stopped. His critics, who include Moreno, have been threatened, jailed or attacked. Hondurans who oppose Hernandez say U.S. taxpayers are paying for their oppression.

Johnson, a Democrat, said he introduced his bill, named after a slain human rights leader, to stand united with “our brothers and sisters in Honduras who are being oppressed.”

“Their human rights are being denied and trampled upon by a corrupt government that is sponsored by our own government,” he said.

Human rights “don’t mean a thing to this current government in Honduras,” Johnson said. The bill has about 70 co-sponsors and “we will one day get it passed,” he said.

U.S. policies in Honduras, the congressman said, are driving people to migrate north, where Americans are saying they are part of the country’s problems, “but we should stop and think a little more deeply about what we’re doing and what is happening south of our borders as we’re making it untenable for people to continue to live (in Honduras).”

When people are oppressed, they move away from home, Johnson said.

“If we change our policies, we will create a safer and more peaceful environment, but it can’t be for the select few, it has to be for all of us,” he said.

Jose Artiga, executive director of the SHARE Foundation, said the delegation also was calling for an investigation into the killing and imprisonment of those who protested the November 2017 election that kept Hernandez in power.

“We are asking for the freedom of those political prisoners,” he said.

Neery Carillo, the sister of Caceres, the woman after whom the the bill is named, also was present to talk about her sister, her work and legacy.

“My family and I continue living with a heavy heart after three years, two months and 15 days” since she was killed, she said. “My youngest sister, Bertita, was brutally assassinated.”

Caceres, who spoke in favor of the environment, human rights and the rights of the indigenous, was shot dead in her home in March 2016. She had been protesting the building of a dam near an indigenous community. In March, the executive of a hydroelectric company was arrested for playing a part in planning her killing.

Her sister said Caceres’ death can help bring about the quest for justice she so desired but she also blamed the U.S. government for getting in the way of that by “actively ignoring the (Honduran) government’s extensive corruption.”

“Berta’s death cannot be in vain,” Carillo said. “It’s not all about Bertita. It’s about Hondurans, all Central Americans.”

The U.S. must do better to help Central Americans, she said, and they would stop fleeing their countries if it weren’t for the violence and corruption the U.S. government helped to create.

Moreno called for the U.S. to stop supporting “an illegal and illegitimate” president, and help instead to restore democracy.

“We have faith in the struggle of this moment. We have faith in the struggle of the future, and we have faith in the future of an authentic brotherhood between the people of Honduras and the United States,” he said. “Let us support one another, let’s build a bridge now, not build a wall, but a bridge toward justice and peace between Honduras and the United States.”

US-Trained Special Forces Joined Police Crackdown on Dam Protesters in Honduras

Thursday, May 17, 2018 By Sandra Cuffe, Truthout | Report

Police from various units are present May 3 in Pajuiles, in northern Honduras, to escort dam construction machinery past a community resistance camp. (Photo: Witness for Peace)

Police from various units are present May 3 in Pajuiles, in northern Honduras, to escort dam construction machinery past a community resistance camp. (Photo: Witness for Peace)

It started at dawn. A vehicle full of Honduran police officers showed up at around 5 am on May 3 in front of the community protest camp in Pajuiles, where residents have been present day and night for more than a year to prevent the passage of hydroelectric dam construction machinery. Less than two hours later, the whole area was crawling with hundreds of members of various police units, including regular national police, the Police Investigations Directorate, the elite COBRAS unit and the TIGRES special forces, which are heavily supported by the US and trained by Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

“It was like a war zone,” Pajuiles community leader Albertina López told Truthout.

Police forces lined the immediate area along the nearby highway that runs from El Progreso up to Tela, along the Caribbean coast in the Atlántida Department. Soon they were also lining the road past the camp and up to the contested construction site of the Mezapa River dam. They showed up in convoys, escorting machinery, construction materials and company personnel up to the site, where the Honduran company HIDROCEP has been trying to build a 1.3 megawatt dam.

“People were scared,” said López. Nevertheless, she and a few other women made an attempt to stop the machinery, lying down in the road in front of the protest camp to try to stop the machinery’s passage. “That’s when they started firing tear gas at us,” she said. People scattered, ushering a 75-year-old protester and children to safety, but López and others maintained their permanent presence at the roadside resistance camp throughout the police operations that lasted two full days.

State violence against community resistance to natural resource exploitation projects continues unabated in Honduras. The recent crackdown in Pajuiles to impose a fiercely contested hydroelectric dam project is just one of the latest incidents, but it provides a clear example of the involvement of US-trained and -supported special forces in repression against community activists.

Honduran Security Forces Trained by Green Berets

The Pajuiles community protest camp in northern Honduras celebrates its one year anniversary on March 22, 2018. (Photo: Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia)

The Pajuiles community protest camp in northern Honduras celebrates its one year anniversary on March 22, 2018. (Photo: Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia)

“Honduran security forces, including those receiving funding and training from the United States, have been implicated in human rights violations in recent years,” Christine Wade, a Washington College professor of political science and international studies, told Truthout. “The targeting of environmental and land rights activists is just one facet of this.”

“Despite these abuses, funding continues to flow from the US, our military installations remain open to train Honduran security forces and impunity reigns. Unless the US acts decisively to suspend aid to security forces, these abuses will continue,” said Wade.

The Intelligence and Special Security Response Group Units (TIGRES, an acronym that spells “tigers” in Spanish) were created back in 2013, when current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández proposed a bill as president of Congress. The initial proposal was for more of an explicitly military-police hybrid force that would have been transferred from civilian oversight to the Secretariat of Defense in times of war, but those elements were removed from the bill before its passage. The TIGRES now fall under the police Directorate of Special Forces.

Training of the first TIGRES recruits, drawn from military and police forces, began in 2014, the year Hernández took office as president of Honduras. They were trained by Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and Colombian members of the Comandos Jungla special police force. The same US and Colombian forces trained the following year’s recruits in a 12-week Comando basic course. Some TIGRES agents also received advanced training from Green Berets at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2015.

In their first year in action, the TIGRES were implicated in a massive theft and corruption scandal. More than 20 TIGRES agents were suspended following the theft of more than $1 million during operations against a drug trafficker in western Honduras. Late last year, as reported by The Intercept, TIGRES were involved in raids and arrests targeting people who had been protesting the contested outcome of the November 2017 elections that officially resulted in Hernández’s re-election amid widespread reports of vote-rigging and fraud.

A Green Beret from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and TIGRES engage in advanced marksmanship training during a 2014 tour by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of TIGRES training facilities. (Photo: Spc. Steven Young / DVIDS. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

A Green Beret from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and TIGRES forces engage in advanced marksmanship training during a 2014 tour by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of TIGRES training facilities. (Photo: Spc. Steven Young / DVIDS. The appearance of US Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

On April 10 of this year, a new TIGRES base, completed with US financing, was inaugurated in El Progreso. It is the second TIGRES base, joining the installations 25 miles west of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. High-ranking Honduran and US government officials attended the inauguration in El Progreso, including Honduran President Hernández; Richard Glenn, acting deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; and Heide Fulton, the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Honduras, and currently the highest-ranking embassy official.

Less than one month later, TIGRES were involved in the crackdown in Pajuiles, only 23 miles north of the new installations. Media reports and Honduran and US officials highlight the TIGRES’ focus on combatting drug trafficking and organized crime, but on May 3, they were escorting dam company personnel and construction machinery along with other police forces that cracked down on community protest.

The Honduran Secretariat of Security did not provide a response to Truthout’s requests for comment or even confirm basic details, such as a ballpark figure of how many total police participated in the operations in Pajuiles. López, other local residents, and human rights observers estimated that approximately 250 to 300 members of the various police forces and units were present.

The US government did respond and is aware of the deployment of TIGRES to Pajuiles. “There was no U.S. involvement in this operation,” a Department of State spokesperson wrote in a response to Truthout’s request for comment.

“While we support the TIGRES professional development and specific missions related to key U.S. interests in Honduras, particularly combating drug trafficking and organized crime, we do not dictate their deployment or other operations they conduct. We aggressively review any allegation of wrong doing by the TIGRES or any other units of the security forces we support, irrespective of whether it is a mission we actively supported,” the Department of State spokesperson wrote.

Ryan Morgan, a member of the in-country human rights accompaniment team of Witness for Peace, a US nongovernmental organization, witnessed the presence and participation of TIGRES agents in operations in Pajuiles on May 3, following his arrival at the community a couple of hours after the police convoys began escorting the dam machinery.

“There were a lot of US taxpayer dollars in Pajuiles that day,” Morgan told Truthout. With regard to the TIGRES, Morgan believes their presence there should be considered problematic even by US lawmakers and embassy officials who believe their mandate is important for US national security in terms of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime.

“It would be very hard to explain or justify the involvement of the TIGRES in Pajuiles,” said Morgan. “This use of the TIGRES should outrage even people who on paper support their existence and US support for them,” he said.

TIGRES agents were the first police forces Morgan and his colleague saw when they were arriving at Pajuiles. They were stationed along the highway approximately a quarter of a mile south of the road leading to the protest camp, where a police roadblock was set up nearby. Morgan and his colleague stayed at the camp all day, until 5 pm or so. Convoys and machinery came and went up to the construction site, but by the camp itself it was mostly COBRAS who were guarding the area, armed with riot gear, tear gas and maybe only a pistol or two among the dozen or so agents who swapped out every two hours. Escorts for dam machinery were also largely provided by COBRAS, said Morgan, but that changed later in the afternoon.

At approximately 3 pm, a convoy came down from the dam construction site, reportedly escorting HIDROCEP executive Jason Hawit. Morgan didn’t see whether Hawit was in fact there or not, but he did note the difference in police forces accompanying the vehicles.

 Pajuiles residents and the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice celebrate the December 2017 acquittal of Albertina López (in the blue dress) and three other protest camp participants. Other Pajuiles residents still face trial. (Photo: Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia)

Pajuiles residents and the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice celebrate the December 2017 acquittal of Albertina López (in the blue dress) and three other protest camp participants. Other Pajuiles residents still face trial. (Photo: Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia)

“I was really surprised to see two or three trucks full of TIGRES, all with automatic weapons, obviously, that had apparently been up at the construction site, providing security there all day,” Morgan told Truthout. Shortly thereafter, TIGRES also showed up in the area of the protest camp. “At 3:30 or so, rather than a new unit of COBRAS coming to relieve the one that was there, it was a mixed unit of COBRAS and TIGRES,” he said. As with those providing escort, the TIGRES carried automatic weapons, not riot gear. The TIGRES presence continued until the following night, on May 4.

Earlier in the morning of May 3, before Morgan arrived, police arrested a local Pajuiles resident while he was filming the security forces’ operations. Albertina López’s brother Nolberto López was taken into custody, accused by police of causing a public scandal. According to locals, however, he was arrested simply for recording police. He was released without charges later that afternoon. He is far from the first to suffer criminalization related to the protest camp, however. His sister was acquitted, but 11 Pajuiles residents are still facing trial.

Organized in local community groups by sector, Pajuiles residents are members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), which grew out of a prosecutor’s hunger strike against corruption and now also focuses on natural resources and human rights issues. MADJ leaders and community members alike have been subject to a barrage of threats, intimidation and attacks, particularly in connection with the dam protest camps in Pajuiles and in Arizona, also located in the Atlántida Department.

“Pajuiles has been subject to intense repression,” MADJ coordinator of organization Saúl Ávila told Truthout. Many residents still face trial for criminal charges linked to the camp, and there have been past instances of police repression and militarization in Pajuiles.

One local resident, Geovanny Díaz, who had participated in the dam resistance camp was among the more than 35 people killed during the nationwide violent crackdown on protests against election fraud. Díaz was dragged out of his home in Pajuiles by men dressed in police uniforms, shot and killed shortly after a protest ended in the wee hours of March 23.

“There’s collusion between the dam company and state forces, but local divisions also aggravate the situation,” said Ávila. “The [company] completely divided the upper communities and turned them against the lower communities, which are the communities that will suffer from water shortages if the hydroelectric dam is built,” he said.

The Uphill Battle Up North to Cut Deadly Security Aid

TIGRES and other police unit members maintain a presence May 3 near the Pajuiles protest camp along the road leading to a contested dam construction site. (Photo: Witness for Peace)

TIGRES and other police unit members maintain a presence May 3 near the Pajuiles protest camp along the road leading to a contested dam construction site. (Photo: Witness for Peace)

Alex Main visited Pajuiles this past March for the one-year anniversary of the protest camp. A senior associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research based in Washington, DC, Main has reported on Honduran movements and US aid to security forces for years.

US congressional efforts to cut or condition security assistance to Honduras began in earnest back in 2010, according to Main. At the time, there was increased attention to the country in the wake of the June 2009 coup d’état that removed the elected president from office and led to a marked spike in homicides, state violence and murders of activists. Community-based land, environmental and Indigenous activists have been particularly targeted.

“Given that the situation has only grown worse since then, and that horrifyingly frequent reports of police and military involvement in activist killings have been met with near impunity, members of Congress have continued to demand full suspension of security assistance to Honduras in increasing numbers,” Main wrote in an email to Truthout.

One initiative to that effect is the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, a bill named in honor of the well-known Honduran Indigenous rights and social movement activist murdered in 2016. “[It] would instruct the US administration to suspend all security assistance to Honduras and to veto any loans from multilateral development banks to Honduran police and military forces. It has so far garnered 70 House co-sponsors,” Main noted.

Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) assist TIGRES during a 2015 shooting drill at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. (Photo: Capt. Thomas Cieslak / DVIDS. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) assist TIGRES forces during a 2015 shooting drill at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. (Photo: Capt. Thomas Cieslak / DVIDS. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

At the moment, legislative action with regard to aid to Honduran security forces is limited to elements incorporated into appropriations legislation that condition half of US aid to Honduras on Department of State certification of compliance with a series of loosely worded human rights measures.

“These or similar requirements have been incorporated into appropriations legislation for a number of years now, and have had no observable positive effect to date,” wrote Main. “The last time they certified the government’s compliance was actually just two days after last year’s incredibly problematic elections, providing the government with a needed boost just as they began deploying security agents, including TIGRES, military police and conventional military troops, to violently repress protests.”

Back in Pajuiles, many residents are still shaken from the recent massive deployment of security forces there. Police took photographs of protest camp participants and community leaders during the operations, and they have been informed by other residents that death threats against them continue to circulate, said Albertina López. They’re planning to formally report the latest threats to Honduran authorities, but don’t have much faith it will result in any action.

“State institutions don’t function. They don’t function at all — not for us,” said López. However, López and other activists at the protest camp are not giving up and have vowed to resist the dam. “We continue the struggle,” she said.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Sandra Cuffe

Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist reporting on Indigenous land and resource struggles, militarization and human rights issues in Canada and Central America. Follow her on Twitter: @Sandra_Cuffe.

Radio Progreso- Defending Human Rights in Honduras

By Sean Hawkey with revisions by WACC staff on March 12, 2018

An interview with Fr Ismael Moreno, Director of Radio Progreso




Fr Ismael Moreno, affectionately known as Melo, is a Jesuit priest, human rights campaigner and the Director of Radio Progreso. He is pictured leading prayers at an ecumenical vigil outside the US embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Radio Progreso is a Jesuit radio station based in El Progreso, Honduras. The station is internationally recognized for its role advancing human rights, promoting peace, supporting community-based communication initiative, and advocating for environmental protection across Honduras. Radio Progreso has been broadcasting since the 1980’s and has been involved in numerous community mobilization efforts in support of Indigenous people, Afro-descendants, peasants, women, and youth, both in Honduras and across Central America.

Honduras has been mired in a series of human rights and democratic governance crises since 2009, when then-president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in widely denounced coup. High profile corruption cases, weakening institutions, and impunity followed.  The country is presently one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, human rights defenders, LGBTQ activists, and environmentalists[i]. Latent discontent in the country erupted in late 2017 following a disputed and highly controversial presidential election that ultimately saw Juan Orlando Hernandez, the incumbent president, elected. The situation sparked mass demonstrations and violent state repression[ii][iii][iv].

Radio Progreso has been at the forefront of the post-election movement to call for transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights in Honduras. Fr Ismael Moreno, Director of Radio Progreso, spoke with Sean Hawkey during his most recent visit to the country.

Sean Hawkey: How do you assess the current human rights situation in Honduras?

Fr Moreno: ‘We need to have a firm understanding of what’s behind the current moment, [behind] this situation. There are systemic issues [to be addressed]. The institutions of this government do not guarantee human rights. The rule of law is subject to arbitrary decisions of a small group led by Juan Orlando Hernandez who have control over the three powers of the state (the executive, legislative, and judicial branches). [That means that the protection of] human rights depends on the will of the government team, and not on the institutional [and legal] order that should protect human rights.

The precariousness of human rights here is that it is [ultimately up] to the people in charge of the Honduran regime. The defence of our human rights depends on how much the President’s team likes us, or rejects us.

For example, if the Department of State of the United States, warns Juan Orlando Hernández that the human rights of particular people should be protected, their rights [will be] protected, temporarily. However, the human rights situation is still precarious [because there is no system in place to protect people’s rights]. It doesn’t depend on the rule of law.

I was talking to a representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and she told me that she spoke to the President, and [to] the Minister for Security, and asked for my human rights to be respected. That means that my human rights will be respected, but not because human rights per se are respected here, but because the current situation is one where there is arbitrary protection of people’s rights because of political pressure.

The situation for us, human rights defenders, while Juan Orlando Hernandez is in power, is [one of] permanent and growing danger.


Sean Hawkey: What is the role of the media in the current crisis?

Fr Moreno: Media in Honduras is intimately linked to the groups who have power. In fact, power in Honduras is ultimately expressed through the capacity to control the media. The well-established national media in the country are associated with the five [most] powerful groups that exist in the country. Those are Grupo FICOHSA, Grupo Atlántida, Grupo Dinant, Grupo Terra and Grupo Karim. These groups bring together the 17 most powerful groups in Honduras, the 17 most powerful surnames in Honduras.

The media – TV, radio and the printed press- normally follow the script [set by these powerful interests] that [says] that they shouldn’t [get anywhere near the interests] of those groups. [The media in Honduras] ultimately expresses the interests of these powerful groups.

So, the media in Honduras is extremely conditioned by the owners, who are part of these economic groups, and who have more power than any government. They are the real government, and they have the ability to veto any sort of candidacy that could affect their interests. These are the five groups that were behind the coup of 2009, these are the five groups that are behind the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez, and these are the five groups that have the power of veto over any candidate that [even remotely resembles] Manuel Zelaya. Manuel Zelaya represents a threat to these five powerful groups.

These five groups are tightly linked to the embassy of the United States of America. For the government of the United States, Honduras is of geopolitical [importance], though they have no interest for what life is like in the country. They are wary of political instability. They prefer alliances with [established] politicians, even if they are tainted by corruption and are responsible for human rights abuses.

The media here, in many different ways, try to hide the reality that people live, try to hide the extreme differences between wealth and poverty in Honduras, and that the wealth is in so few hands. And they try to hide the repudiation of this [inequality] by the majority. And they try to maintain a situation that favours investments by the five groups and the United States.

The media here, in essence, abuse freedom of expression. They work against the role of the media, which is to inform, generate informed opinion and generate a culture of participation and coexistence and peace.

Sean Hawkey: How does the media and the powerful groups behind it exercise this power?

The big media are the property of these sectors of power. So, for media that aren’t following the script- the ones that have relationships with human rights defenders and with the opposition, and that are [beyond] the control of the government and these five powerful groups- there is a five step process that is sharply adhered to.

The first step is to ignore them. For us [at Radio Progreso], who have a different point of view than the government’s, or who question the government, we’ll never be invited to a TV station to give express our view. They’ll never run a story on who we are and what we do. We are ignored.

When, for different reasons, we can’t be ignored, they will twist information about us, on what we do, they will stigmatise us, they will discredit us. For example, they won’t talk about what we do or say, but they will call us rebels, revolutionaries. They’ll say that we stand in the way of development, or they’ll say that we are linked to organised crime, or that we have old ideas that [are incompatible] with modernity. They stigmatise us, they discredit us.

If that doesn’t work, they’ll try to co-opt us, to bribe us in many different ways. It can be with money, but not necessarily with money. It might be through recognitions, invitations to participate in bodies or events that deal with human rights, to go to five-star hotels. All of this is to make journalists [linked] with the opposition feel like they belong there.

When that doesn’t work then they try to criminalise us, which is the fourth step. When discrediting us doesn’t work, trying to buy us off doesn’t work, and we can’t be ignored, then they criminalise independent media. That’s why the Penal Code has been reformed, to enable accusations of terrorism and treason.

If none of that works, then they go to the fifth step which is assassination.

Sean Hawkey:  How has this affected Radio Progreso?

We’ve been ignored, but they can’t ignore us completely. They’ve tried to co-opt us and buy us off. Last year they tried to give me the government prize for human rights, I would have been part of their game if I’d accepted it. That hasn’t worked. They’ve tried to stigmatise us, they’ve produced posters [with supposed links to organised crime for example]. Attempts have been made to criminalise us. They have sabotaged our transmission tower in Tegucigalpa. And now we are trying to avoid that last step.

Photos by Sean Hawkey


[i] Human Rights Watch. 2018. World Report 2018: Honduras.

[ii] DW. 2018. “Honduras military clashes with protesters over president’s re-election”

[iii] Reuters. 2018. “Honduran president sworn in amid protests after election chaos”

[iv]Sandra Cuffe. 2018. ”US-trained police are hunting down and arresting protesters amid post-election crisis in Honduras”. The Intercept.

Reflection on the murder of Carlos Mejia, Radio Progreso

Radio Progreso Manager Murdered

Was Carlos Mejía a Target?

*This reflection was written by Lucy Edwards (PROAH, Hope in Action, Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon)

On the evening of Friday, April 11, Carlos Mejía Orellana, 35, was stabbed to death in his home in El Progreso, Honduras. The white Rosary his mother had given him that day was broken and on the floor of the living room of his home. Nothing of value was taken from house. His well maintained Toyota sedan sat on the carport, its alarm sounding. Why was Carlos murdered? Was he targeted for his work at Radio Progreso?

Carlos was the eldest of 11 children to parents Salvadora and Nicolas. The family moved from a rural area near Ocotepeque to the growing northern city of El Progreso when Carlos was 8 or 9. He was entrepreneurial man, an intelligent and diligent worker who began at the Jesuit radio station Radio Progreso in his early twenties, and eventually became promotion and marketing manager. He was quiet and thoughtful, and knew how to get things done. He seemed to anticipate your needs before you knew you had them.

His house was well constructed and secure. He paid attention to issues of security. The home had a high wall surrounding it, with strong gates and tightly coiled barbed wire. He had a boyfriend, but lived alone, with two socialized and friendly dogs; they were not part of the security plan. He adored them and spoiled them. They were companions.

carlos photo 2

His work at the radio station took him into the community. While shy in social settings, Carlos was not shy about the radio station. He loved his work selling ads and producing events promoting the station. He also had other jobs outside the radio station, all approved by his supervisor, Catholic priest Ismael Moreno, known as Padre Melo. Carlos had taught management classes, and recently was helping a community radio station get off the ground. He had just purchased a washing machine for his parents. It was still wrapped in plastic on in the carport the day I visited.

Carlos Mejia was one of 16 members of the Radio Progreso team granted protected measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Station employees had received threats of violence, and many journalist colleagues in Honduras have been murdered. Radio Progreso studios were occupied by the armed forces during the 2009 coup, and the station was surrounded by police on another occasion.

In a country with so many layers of corruption, militarization, violence and impunity, Radio Progreso, and its affiliated Jesuit research team ERIC (equípo de reflección, investigación y comunicación) are an irrepressible daily affirmation of freedom of expression, creativity and courage in Honduras. Their work confronts and directly challenges the corruption and impunity.

Was Carlos targeted because of his work at the Jesuit radio? At this point one can only speculate. He was murdered at his home, stabbed several times with a knife. It appears his body was posed. It appears the killer or killers removed his clothes and tried to create the illusion of another kind of murder. But the shirt he was wearing that night was never found. Someone took it. Someone took the knife. Someone left by the front door and the front gate, leaving them both open.

It appears Carlos’ attacker came to the house with him, perhaps in Carlos’ car. They ate chicken, and shortly after Carlos was attacked–perhaps initially in the living room where the Rosary was broken, and then murdered in the bedroom where his clothes were then removed.

As the marketing manager, Carlos’ work provided the financial capital for the radio. His death has been a huge blow to his coworkers and a direct hit against the radio station economically. As a gay man, his killer or killers may have considered his sexual orientation a vulnerability to exploit. Someone gained Carlos’ trust enough to be invited to his home, and murdered him.

In an immediate newspaper online account, police declared their suspicions of a crime of passion before they had conducted any investigation. No one has ever investigated the many threats against the radio station staff and management that began in earnest in 2010 and remain as permanent threats.

On April 18, U.S. Representatives James P. McGovern (MA), Sam Farr (CA), and Janice D. Schakowsky (IL) released the following statement on the murder in Honduras of Carlos Mejía Orellana.

“We are shocked and saddened by the news of the murder of Carlos Mejia Orellana, journalist and marketing director of Radio Progreso in Honduras. We extend our deepest condolences to his family members, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this difficult time.

“We are very familiar with the important work of Radio Progreso, a community-based radio station that is a work of the Jesuits of the Central American Province. We note that the Director of Radio Progreso, Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, testified before the U.S. Congress at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and described the constant death threats and attacks perpetrated with impunity against journalists in Honduras, including against Radio Progreso, its employees and its research arm, ERIC. Given the level of threats and violence, including assassination, targeted against journalists, the media and freedom of expression in Honduras, we are dismayed that the Government of Honduras has failed to implement protective measures for the employees of Radio Progreso, as called for by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when, on four separate occasions over the past five years, it issued precautionary measures on behalf of 16 staff members, including Carlos Mejia Orellana, of Radio Progreso and ERIC. We are further troubled by news reports that the police had announced the murder was carried out by someone close to Sr. Mejia Orellana before any investigation had yet begun. We call upon the Honduran authorities to immediately implement protective measures for Radio Progreso and ERIC employees and to carry out a thorough investigation of the murder of Carlos Mejia Orellana to determine both material and intellectual authors of this heinous act and to bring them to justice in a timely manner.”

Sandra Maribel Sánchez shrugs off blackmail as easily as she would an online troll.

Threats against your life are all in a day’s work, says the 55-year-old Honduran journalist, when you report on feminism, politics and human rights in a country rife with corruption and organized crime and ruled by men.

“It’s not a matter of how afraid or brave you are, critical journalism has to do with your convictions,” says Honduran journalist and feminist Sandra Maribel Sánchez.

“Once you’ve realized that threats are going to be a part of it, you don’t feel fear when they materialize,” Sánchez says breezily. “It’s not a matter of how afraid or brave you are, critical journalism has to do with your convictions.”

We’re seated on a jostling bus bound for Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It’s a winding four-hour road trip from rural Río Blanco, through lush green forest, coffee and corn plantations.

“As you may have noticed, I’m pretty strong-willed, so I defend my freedom of expression,” she adds. “I don’t go before hand to ask for permission… and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to listen.”

Over three decades, Sánchez has risen as a respected, progressive broadcaster in Honduras — known for staring down the authorities time and again in the name of freedom of the press. As a woman, she has endured numerous indignities along the way, ranging from sexist comments to police arrest and a physical attack.

But Sánchez vows she will never be silenced, because “journalism is my life.”

Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tegucigalpa is the capital city of Honduras, and widely considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world to be a woman, journalist or activist. It is seen here on Oct. 20, 2017 from the Hotel Honduras Maya. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Conquering congress in the 1980s

An indefatigable reporter, Sánchez launched her career more than 30 years ago, at a time when women were unpopular in the workforce, let alone a newsroom.

She also did it in Tegucigalpa, which is widely recognized as the most dangerous capital on Earth with no declared war. Honduras is a troubled Central American state where a woman is killed every 16 hours, and at least 69 journalists have been murdered since 2001.

Sánchez rose to prominence as the second female reporter to cover national politics in Honduran history. But her success didn’t come easily — at her very first job, she was told that women should not be covering politics at all.

It was around 1985, and she had been hired as a political correspondent by Radio América Honduras, only to be assigned to cover health and education. She pushed back against newsroom management and wound up covering the National Congress.

Her next challenge came in the halls of government itself, where no one — not even her reporting colleagues — would take her seriously. In group interviews with politicians, known as scrums, she was constantly overlooked.

“When I would ask a question, my colleagues would turn off their tape recorders,” she remembers, her bitterness discernible. “They assumed I wouldn’t ask anything that could be considered important.”

They were wrong; Sánchez quickly started scooping the male reporters. They paid attention and started deferring to her, having her ask the first questions in a scrum.

“That’s when they considered me competition and somebody not to be dismissed,” she says. “But as women, it’s really hard to win those spaces.”

Sánchez stayed with Radio América for 18 years. In addition to reporting, she hosted her very own talk show, whose air time she used to cover controversial topics, such as feminism, Indigenous rights and environmental protection.

Yet despite earning her chops as a political correspondent, eventually she realized she would never be promoted to newsroom management because she was a woman.

So she quit.

Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Sandra Maribel Sánchez, journalism, Radio
Honduran journalists film a press conference with Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 24, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Always the rebel

Before she was a journalist, Sánchez was a primary school teacher. But it never sparked her passion, and after completing her qualifications, she moved on.

“I had 40 children in my classroom and I was paid the equivalent of $40 a month,” Sánchez explains. “… I wanted to study journalism because I had been organized politically since high school and thought as a journalist, I could contribute to the changes our country needed.”

Sánchez grew up during the Cold War, after a series of military coups and a war with El Salvador that returned Honduras to civilian rule. At the urging of the U.S. government — which had established a continuing military presence there to train local troops and support El Salvador — Honduras adopted a national security regime that targeted internal subversion and dissent.

Sánchez was undeterred by the risks of being a young female activist. She joined Honduras’ Federation of Secondary Students, and travelled the country to attend “underground” meetings on such dangerous topics as feminism, Indigenous sovereignty and systemic state corruption.

It was at these meetings that she came to know another female Honduran trailblazer — beloved Indigenous activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres. Cáceres was murdered in March 2016 after leading a 20-year campaign against the Honduran state selling ancestral Indigenous lands to foreign companies. The assassination, still under investigation today, sent shock waves through the country.

Sánchez remembers her fondly.

“We learned from her that when you have a dream you have to go after it and work for it, regardless of the risks… We also learned that you have to have an international forum to make (the issues) known.”

This is why the weight of social change in Honduras falls so heavily on journalists, Sánchez explains — they have a direct line of communication with the outside world. But that “great responsibility” often comes at great risk, as she learned in the latter half of her career.

Berta Cáceres, women's rights, Honduras, environmental activists, killings, murder, impunity
Lenca environmental activists set up a humble tribute to slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres in their traditional territory of Río Blanco, Honduras on Oct. 21, 2017. Cáceres was murdered in March 2016 for her advocacy against a hydroelectric dam slated for construction on a sacred Lenca river in Río Blanco. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Awarded, attacked, arrested

In December 2007, Sánchez was awarded the Argentina-based Fundación Democracía sin Fronteras Prize for Journalistic Integrity. It is given to those who, against great odds, uphold freedom of expression, objectivity and the fight against corruption.

At the time, she was the news director for Radio Globo — a station that did not refuse her a promotion based on sex. One of her first moves in management was to ensure her reporting team was at least 50 per cent female.

“The female journalists were actually better than the men, and our audience knew that too,” she says with a grin.

The recognition was a major accomplishment, she adds, given that in Honduras, “all women are perceived to be less skilled and capable than men in every field, regardless of how well the person is doing the work.”

“The patriarchy is the underlying theme everywhere, even of course, within women’s perceptions,” Sánchez explains. “Although there’s been a great deal of effort within women’s and feminist organizations, it has not been enough to deconstruct a culture that was built over centuries.”

Sánchez stayed at Radio Globo nearly five years, steadfast in her commitment to coverage of environmental defence, Indigenous rights, social welfare, freedom of expression and “critical analysis of what (politicians) aren’t doing.” During that time, life in Honduras took a turn for the worst — especially for journalists.

In 2008, Sánchez and her family received numerous threats and were repeatedly followed by unmarked vehicles due to her support for a hunger strike undertaken by a handful of public prosecutors who wanted proceedings initiated in the country’s most notorious, unpunished corruption cases. Her family was unharmed, but shaken.

It was the calm before the storm. A year later, there was a a constitutional crisis and coup d’état in Honduras. The president was ousted and exiled and constitutional rights were suspended for 45 days. By August 2009, as civil unrest and conflict escalated, the interim government had shut down a number local broadcasters — including Sánchez’s Radio Globo, whose offices were raided by masked soldiers.

The following years were among the deadliest for journalists in Honduras. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, at least 22 journalists were murdered. Only one case resulted in sentencing.

At the time, Frank La Rue, a United Nations special freedom of expression rapporteur, called these statistics “unacceptable and inhuman,” and called on the new Honduran president to create measures to protect journalists and their families.

Sánchez says those dark times strengthened her resolve.

“I knew this was a profession subject to ongoing censorship — that we would have to struggle for freedom of expression, and that when you want to practice the kind of journalism I practice, you are always at risk. But journalism is my life.”

Sandra Maribel Sanchez, Radio Progreso, Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, Yemen, Iran
Honduran journalist Sandra Maribel Sanchez (centre) poses for a photo with Nobel Peace Prize laureates Tawakkol Karman of Yemen (left) and Shirin Ebadi of Iran, who visited Tegucigalpa in October 2017 to hear from women human rights defenders. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

In 2014, Sánchez received an unprecedented apology from a Honduran police officer who disrupted her coverage of a 2011 protest, during which he and his team had teargassed a bus full of innocent passengers. Sánchez’s camera was broken during the incident, which was characterized by the local paper El Heraldo as an “aggression” limiting a journalist’s “right to work freely.” The policer officer voluntarily submitted to freedom of expression sensitivity training, and at the time, Sánchez deemed his actions “courageous” and precedent-setting.

Two years later, in November 2016 — several months after the murder of her dear friend Berta Cáceres — Sánchez was beaten, dragged and arrested by police at tollbooth near Tegucigalpa, where she was covering a protest supporting the right to free movement (without tolls) in the country. She was later released without charge, and her news station filed a complaint with the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in Honduras.

Asked whether she has been targeted more than other journalists in the country, she responds:

“There’s really not a robust, critical press in our country so it’s very easy to be singled out by those who do not tolerate freedom of expression.”

A dream for true democracy

After a brief stint with Radio Gualcho, Sánchez moved on to Radio Progreso — a proudly independent broadcaster run by the Catholic Order of Jesuits, dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices and advancing human rights. She works there today, and has made a name for herself as an outspoken feminist, political and social commentator — particularly during the recent election.

It was a tumultuous and controversial election, wrought with accusations of fraud, protests and violence that left than 30 people dead on the streets, and launched Honduras into its worst political crisis in a decade.

Yet amid such troubled times, Sánchez says she sees glimmers of hope, particularly for women. Over the years, the country has enacted a domestic violence law, recognized ‘femicide’ (the sex-based murder of women) in the criminal code, and increased punishments for offenders. It has also launched a new Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders, which outlines a number of government safety measures to protect journalists and their families.

More women have access to education now than when she was a little girl, she adds, and increasingly, women are asserting themselves in politics and society at large.

“I see young women with fewer fears. I see them negotiating,” she tells me, our ride to Tegucigalpa nearing its end. “They can end relations when they’re not satisfactory. That makes me think that there has been progress even though there have been a number of issues.”

I ask her what her dream is — what she hopes her struggle will amount to in her lifetime. The answer is surprisingly simple.

“That Honduras could become a true democracy, because if it were a true democracy it would ensure that all the other changes I would like to see would take place,” Sánchez responds.

“There would be equal participation of men and women, youth and adults, and black and Indigenous people in decision-making processes.”

Lenca people, Honduras, Berta Cáceres, Río Blanco, COPINH
Indigenous Lenca girls smile during a memorial ceremony for a murdered community leader, Berta Cáceres, on Oct. 21, 2017 in Río Blanco, Honduras. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth McSheffrey travelled to Honduras with the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates, which provided translation services for this interview.

Pajulies Under Attack: Hydroelectric Company Bypasses Resistance by Military Force

Residents of Pajuiles maintain a camp under a banner reading “For water and for life we will go to the end. Unity and struggle, Pajuiles resists.” Source: Louis Bockner

A day after a Honduran judge dismissed charges of land invasion against 10 people from Pajuiles, at least 300 soldiers and police surrounded the small community near the North Coast of Honduras early Thursday morning in a show of force while guarding the company behind a controversial hydroelectric dam in the region.

Truckloads of state security as well as agents on foot arrived in the community around 5:30 a.m. local time accompanying president and CEO of the hydroelectric company Hidrocep, Jason Hawit. Community members said Hawit, who is also named as the General Manager of Baprosa, a rice production company in the neighboring department of Yoro, left the area around 6:00 p.m., but that military agents were still present well into the night.

“The company came completely guarded — five police trucks in front and five behind,”  a witness who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Upside Down World. “It was like a war.”

The witness reported that the scores of state security included U.S. funded and trained TIGRES, as well as an “exaggerated presence” of officers from the Police Directorate of Investigations (DPI) and COBRA special operations unit. Police and military fired tear gas in a way that appeared to target prominent community leaders and took photos in an apparent attempt to intimidate local residents, the witness added.

For over a year, community members have denounced state violence and criminalization targeting their peaceful resistance to the Hidrocep project.

“We are completely militarized right now,” said Oscar Martinez, a community member who has faced criminal charges for being outspoken about the project. “The company’s equipment came through with the help of the National Police.”

Heavy equipment, including bulldozers, to be used to build the hydroelectric dam, was ushered through the community Thursday as police and military stood guard. Pajuiles has long expressed opposition to the project, raising concerns that the dam will destroy its only source of potable water. Community members report that part of the forest has already been destroyed in the first phase of the construction, fueling concerns about environmental destruction and its consequences for local residents.

During Thursday’s police and military incursion, DPI officers detained local resident Gustavo Norberto Lopez Melgar after he filmed video footage of the state security surrounding the community. Police took Lopez to a police station in Tela before releasing him later the same afternoon.

This isn’t the first time that Hidrocep has used state security to gain entry to the community. Last August, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the excessive and indiscriminate use of state force, including tear gas, in Pajuiles. Five people, including a pregnant woman and a minor, were detained and several were charged by police.

Violence in Pajuiles

Since March 2017, the community of Pajuiles, with the support of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), has been blocking Hidrocep from entering the community in an attempt to stop further development of a hydroelectric dam along the Mezapa River in the Gracias a Dios mountain range.  Last August, military and police used tear gas against community members to allow company vehicles and heavy equipment through to begin working on the dam project.

Members of the “Dignified Camp for Water and Life” at the entrance to the community repeatedly have suffered violent attacks and criminalization at the hands of state security forces, which have targeted the environmental defenders.

On Jan. 23, uniformed police agents reportedly dragged Geovany Dias, a resident of Pajuiles and a member of the MADJ, out of his home, beat him, and shot him 40 times before throwing him on the side of the road. His murder came just days before the inauguration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, elected for a second term amid widespread cries of fraud.

No charges have been laid in Dias’ murder or for attacks against other members of MADJ who have been assaulted, killed, or forced to leave their homes since the November 2017 elections. Marred by allegations of vote rigging and controversy around Hernandez’ bid for a second term despite a constitutional ban on presidential re-election, the election lurched Honduras into its worst political crisis since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup.

Last month, Carlos Hernandez, a lawyer in Tela was murdered in his office. Hernandez was the lawyer for the mayor of Arizona, an hour away from Pajuiles in the same department, who was accused, along with 4 other community members of usurpation. The charges are related to another camp near the Jilmatio River has also been peacefully protesting a hydro-electric project for close to a year.

On March 8, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to the community of Pajuiles after MADJ and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) filed a petition was filed on their behalf by MADJ . In its resolution, IACHR noted the high risk the lack of safe drinking water due to the dam construction poses to the communities. The commission ordered the government to ensure both access to potable water and an investigation into the violence which led to the precautionary measure being ordered in the first place.

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur for Situation of Human Rights Defenders, arrived in Honduras for a week-long visit on May 2 and will present his initial findings on May 11 in Tegucigalpa.

A March 2018 OHCHR report noted Honduras has seen a surge in “threats and intimidation against journalists, media workers, and social and political activists … in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état and significant delays to undertake critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms.”

Jackie McVicar has worked accompanying human rights and land defenders and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide for the past 14 years. Recently, she traveled to Honduras as part of an international emergency faith delegation. She currently works with United for Mining Justice and is a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network.

Honduran journalists face increasing threats and intimidation

Honduras is the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists and they say things are getting worse.

by Heather Gies

Journalists in Honduras say they are under increasing threat from state authorities [Fernando Antonio/AP]
Journalists in Honduras say they are under increasing threat from state authorities [Fernando Antonio/AP]

more on Honduras

Harassment, suspicious phone calls, and restricted access to government sources have become routine for Honduran journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza, who says she is one of many media workers threatened for challenging authorities in her country.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The group ranked Honduras 141 out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Dangers for journalists include physical attacks, threats, and abusive legal proceedings, Reporters Without Borders said.

Meza, the founding editor of alternative digital magazine Pasos de Animal Grande, which specialises in investigative coverage of human rights issues, knows these threats firsthand.

She has repeatedly suffered threats of sexual violence and against her life, as well as surveillance and other forms of intimidation, such as unusual late-night phone calls.

The threats forced her to spend months outside the country in 2013.

As a safety precaution, Meza often is flanked by a pair of international human rights observers provided by Peace Brigades International when she works in the field on investigations or reporting outside of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Sharp increase

Violence against journalists has spiked in the wake of the 2009 US-backed military coup that removed former president Manuel Zelaya and paved the way for current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is often criticised for prioritising the interests of multinational corporations over the Honduran people.

At least 62 journalists have been killed in the country between 2006 and 2017, according to data from the Commission for Investigation of Attacks on Journalists of the Latin American Federation of Journalists.

Only two of those killings happened before 2009.

In the same period, murders of land and environmental defenders, human rights activists, LGBTQ people, and other vulnerable groups have also increased.

The statistics make Honduras the most deadly country for journalists in the Americas per capita. Only Mexico rivals Honduras with 165 journalists killed from 2006 to 2017, according to the federation.

Meza also heads a project with the Association for Democracy and Human Rights (Asopodehu), which supports at-risk media workers and offers training to young journalists.

She told Al Jazeera that Honduran authorities use the climate of fear caused by violence against journalists to their advantage.

“This violence against journalists creates a lot of self-censorship,” Meza said.

This self-censorship accompanies de facto bans by Congress and other official spaces for adversarial journalists, Meza who considers herself banned, said.

“Unfortunately, in Honduras, [state] institutions impose the news agenda.”

‘Masks off’

During the 2009 coup, the government suspended constitutional guarantees and imposed a media blackout.

Cesar Silva, a television reporter with UNE TV, a two-year-old channel that has been critical of Hernandez’ government, said the coup was a defining moment for journalists.

As Honduran media glossed over Zelaya’s removal as a “constitutional substitution”, a tiny minority of journalists reported on the popular uprising and violent military crackdown on the streets.

“The masks all came off,” Silva told Al Jazeera, saying the vast majority of established journalists in the country followed the money and supported the coup. “Everyone took a stance.”

Months later, Silva was abducted and tortured for two days after releasing footage of post-coup repression. He was forced to flee the country but returned several months later to continue reporting, despite the dangers.

“From the time we wake up, begin our work, leave our houses – there’s a risk,” he said of his UNE TV team.

Like Meza, Silva has been denied access to Congress and other state institutions.
He said press freedom continues to worsen.


Radio Progreso: Honduran journalists under threat

Last year, Hernandez won a second term despite widespread allegations of fraud and controversy around his re-election bid. Honduras plunged into its worst political crisis since the coup.

Silva’s UNE TV was the only local television channel that broadcast the police and military crackdown on the anti-fraud protests that shook the country for weeks following the November 26, 2017 election.

During a live broadcast in January, soldiers beat Silva and his colleagues and smashed their camera equipment. In February, a man attempted to stab Silva while he was on the air.

“The conditions are more difficult every day,” Silva said, decrying the targeting of independent journalists in both physical attacks and smear campaigns by mainstream media.

“What motivates us is that we are on the right path. Our beacon is the truth,” Silva said.

Continuing restrictions

Last year, Congress reformed the penal code to punish journalists with four to eight years in jail for “apologising for terrorism”.

Critics slammed the reform, known as Article 335-B, for targeting reporters who refuse to toe the government line or be “bought off”.

A separate reform broadly redefined “terrorism” in a way opponents said could criminalise social protests at judges’ discretion.

The public prosecutor’s office shot down Article 335-B as unconstitutional, but its future hinges on the Supreme Court.

More recently, Hernandez’ allies in Congress promoted a cyber-security bill aimed at regulating “acts of hatred and discrimination” on the internet. Civil society organisations blasted the bill as a “gag law”.

Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit priest and director of Radio Progreso, told Al Jazeera legislation like Article 335-B epitomises the “extreme use of law” to “exercise power over the weak”.

He added that freedom of expression in Honduras is “extremely precarious” and “conditioned by the arbitrary decisions” of a government he claimed “is the product of fraud and illegal re-election”.

After last year’s election, Radio Progreso’s signal went off the air in the capital in what Moreno said was an act of government-sanctioned sabotage.

Moreno has not received death threats, but anonymous smear campaigns have accused him of drug trafficking, vandalism, and other crimes. He claims to have sources confirming his daily activities are surveilled by military intelligence.

Like Meza and Silva, Moreno has received protective measures, in his case provided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He takes practical precautions to protect his safety, recognising his entire team is vulnerable.

“It is a challenge and a responsibility to continue exercising freedom of expression despite enormous difficulties,” he said, linking restricted press freedom to attacks on other basic rights.

“We cannot allow a small elite with links to multinational companies to continue controlling [society],” Moreno said. “We have to fight to transform Honduran society with the goal of having the rule of law where freedom of expression is respected.”