The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the violence against journalists in Honduras and calls on the State to protect and guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

February 15, 2024

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of journalist Luis Alonso Teruel Vega, as well as the persistence of acts of violence against journalists and media outlets in Honduras and urges the State to protect and guarantee the right to freedom of expression and of the press, in accordance with Inter-American standards.

On January 28, 2024, journalist Luis Alonso Teruel Vega was murdered in the municipality of Atima, Santa Bárbara department, while driving his vehicle to the village of La Ceibita. According to public reports, the journalist was intercepted by two unknown individuals, who forced him to get out of the vehicle and shot him with a firearm on at least three occasions. Teruel Vega was taken to a medical center but died shortly after due to the seriousness of his wounds.

Teruel Vega worked as a collaborator for the local channel PencaligŁe Televisión. He was also the administrator of the Facebook page "Luisito TV Informa" where he reported on various issues of local interest and covered environmental issues. He had recently been appointed Municipal Justice Judge, a position that, according to reports, was not holding at the time of the crime.

The Secretary of Human Rights of Honduras, Natalie Roque, strongly condemned the murder and called on the authorities to carry out a prompt and effective investigation of the facts. To date, however, the IACHR has not registered the arrest of those allegedly responsible for the murder of Teruel Vega.

Likewise, the SRFOE takes note that this is the second murder of a journalist in less than two months in the country. At the beginning of this year, the SRFOE condemned the murder of journalist Francisco Javier Ramírez Amador, perpetrated on December 21, 2023, by unknown subjects when he was on his way to his home in the city of Danlí, department of El Paraíso. No information has been received so far on the progress of the investigations into the crime.

These facts are inserted in a context of structural violence against journalists, which the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship have warned about in their country reports of 2015 and 2019, and in the preliminary observations of its most recent on-site visit, which took place in April 2023. As warned in the latter, threats, intimidation, aggressions and harassment continue to be registered -online and offline- particularly against those who cover issues related to corruption, organized crime, citizen security, migration, and the environment. Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has learned of smear campaigns and stigmatizing accusations by public officials and political leaders against the press. This situation affects community and independent communicators in different ways, as well as those who work in areas with a strong presence of organized crime and land conflicts and mining extractivism.

Likewise, technical, administrative and financial problems have deepened in the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Communicators and Justice Operators. These problems, also noted after the IACHR's last on-site visit to Honduras, have eroded the institution and undermined its capacity to respond promptly and effectively to applicants and beneficiaries.

In particular, in 2024 the SRFOE has received information about deficiencies in the functioning of this entity. Among the main concerns are, for example, the lack of rigor in the evaluation of threats and risks faced by journalists, which results in inadequate or insufficient protection measures; the lack of effective coordination and strategic leadership; and the lack of an adequate system of accountability. Consequently, according to reports received by the Rapporteurship, some journalists and communicators have withdrawn from the Mechanism's protection.

In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that, according to Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, "[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation, threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of the media, violate the fundamental rights of individuals and severely restrict freedom of expression".

As the Commission and the Inter-American Court have pointed out, impunity has a strong inhibiting 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 social communicators. Consequently, it deprives society of the right to know the information that journalists obtain.

In view of the foregoing, this Office calls on the Honduran State to respect and guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This obligation requires, among other actions, to investigate with due diligence crimes against journalists, prosecute and punish those responsible, and take the necessary measures to strengthen the protection of journalists at risk, providing them with maximum guarantees so that they can carry out their work in a safe environment and without fear of reprisals.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage 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. R033/24

12:43 PM