RELE condemns the murder of journalist Francisco Ramirez Amador in Honduras and calls on the State to strengthen protection for the press at risk

January 4, 2024

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the murder of journalist Francisco Javier Ramírez Amador, and calls on the Honduran authorities to carry out a complete, effective, and impartial investigation into the case, to prosecute and punish those responsible, and to take urgent measures to strengthen protection for the press at risk.

According to available information, on December 21, journalist Francisco Javier Ramírez was murdered with a firearm by unknown individuals when he was on his way to his home in the city of Danlí, department of El Paraíso. The journalist was accompanied by a police officer who had been assigned to him as part of a State security scheme. During the armed attack, the officer was wounded by two bullet wounds and was transferred to a medical center in Tegucigalpa where he is reported to be stable. Ramírez worked as a reporter for Canal 24 in Danlí, covering police and judicial issues, among other matters of public interest.

The Honduran Human Rights Secretariat condemned the murder of the journalist, and pointed out that the crime “violates the fundamental principles of human rights and freedom of expression”. The National Commissioner for Human Rights (CONADEH) also denounced the events, and urged the authorities “to carry out a thorough and effective investigation so that this crime does not add to the long list of impunity that exceeds 90% of cases of death of people linked to the media”.

Through its monitoring functions, earlier this year, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur documented an armed attack against the journalist, which occurred on May 3. According to public reports, individuals on a motorcycle shot him at least three times, which required him to be urgently attended to at Gabriela Alvarado Hospital. After these events, the journalist received protection measures from the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists of Honduras, as well as from the Directorate for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons by Violence. According to the information received, these included a police escort and temporary relocation outside of Danlí for at least six months. Last November, a request was made to increase the number of police escorts as part of his security scheme, but the authorities reportedly rejected the request, arguing that they did not have enough personnel.

During its on-site visit to Honduras in April 2023, the Commission and the Office of the Special Rapporteur observed the persistence of a structural problem of violence and impunity for crimes against the press. Journalists denounced before the IACHR and SRFOE that they carry out their work amid fear and self-censorship, and in a context of high risk and lack of protection by the authorities, due - among other aspects - to the crisis of the National Protection Mechanism. The situation is particularly worrying for community journalists, and those covering issues such as corruption, organized crime, citizen security, migration, land and mining conflicts.

Likewise, the IACHR and its SRFOE were informed that the press in Danlí is facing a wave of aggressions, ranging from violence and threats by criminal groups that seek to impose news coverage on local media, to the closure of a channel by municipal ordinance for allegedly not paying taxes.

Regarding the situation of the Protection Mechanism, the IACHR received alarming information about the deepening of technical, administrative and financial problems that have eroded the institution and undermine its capacity for prompt and effective response for applicants and beneficiaries. Regarding the implementation of protection measures, deficiencies were observed in the risk analysis and evaluation and the disarticulation of the State response.

According to principle 9 of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, “[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression”. The State has the obligation to prevent, protect, investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for crimes against journalists, which complement each other and must be addressed through comprehensive policies.

As the Commission and the Inter-American Court have pointed out, impunity has a strong inhibitory effect on the exercise of freedom of expression and the consequences for democracy are particularly serious. Not only does it favor the existence of a hostile environment for the press, but it also breaks the confidence of the victims and their families in State institutions and contributes to the self-censorship of communicators. Consequently, it also affects the citizenry, which sees the information it receives on issues that affect them limited, and loses relevant voices and points of view.

For all of the above reasons, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the authorities to investigate these events with due diligence and punish those responsible; and to take comprehensive and urgent measures to strengthen the protection of journalists at risk, providing them with the highest guarantees so they can carry out their work in a free and safe environment, without fear of reprisals.

It also reiterates the call to the Honduran State made by the IACHR in its preliminary observations of the on-site visit with respect to urgently strengthening the Protection Mechanism, and for all entities responsible for the implementation of prevention and protection measures to work in a coordinated and articulated manner.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in order to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. R006/24

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