Freedom of Expression

Press Release R71/19

The Office of the Special Rapporteur Condemns the Murder of Journalist in Honduras and Urges to Investigate Connection to Journalistic Activity 

March 20, 2019 

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of journalist Gabriel Hernández, which occurred on March 17, 2019 in the city of Nacaóme, department of Valle, Honduras, and urges the Honduran government to investigate the case with due diligence and clarify its possible connection to journalism.

According to the information available, Gabriel Hernández was heading to his house in the neighborhood "La Ceiba" around noon on Sunday, March 17, after attending classes at the university. A block away from his home, he would have been intercepted by an armed person, who would have shot several times. After the attack, the journalist was taken to a private clinic, where he died minutes later.

Gabriel Hernández, 54, was the director and presenter of the program "El Pueblo Habla", broadcasted by Valle Televisión. At the same time, he was a correspondent of "Radio Globo", which broadcasts from Tegucigalpa. According to available information, the communicator was opposed to the government and was known for his strong criticism against the mayor of Nacaóme and the Representatives of the department of Valle.

According to information of public knowledge, previously the journalist would have been the object of threats, police aggressions, and refusals to access information by the municipal authorities, led by the Mayor of Nacaóme. In addition, as reported, he had requested protection measures to the National Protection Mechanism, and the mentioned organism would have said that he did not qualify for the measures.  

The Office of the Special Rapporteur has already stated on multiple occasions the imperative need to combat violence against journalists through a comprehensive policy of prevention, protection, and prosecution. In this regard, it has highlighted the importance of creating specialized permanent protection programs in those countries where violence against journalists and media workers is particularly widespread, pointing out that in order for these mechanisms to be effective, they must be backed by a strong political commitment from the State, as well as having sufficient human resources, trained to receive requests for protection, assess the level of risk, adopt and implement protective measures, and monitor the measures that are in force.

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, rejected the murder of the journalist and stated that "the State must conduct a full investigation, taking into account the connection to his work as the main hypothesis of the crime and exhaust all lines of investigation." At the same time, he urged the government to investigate the reasons why the National Mechanism of Protection of Honduras did not provide effective protection to the aforementioned journalist.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the Honduran State to fully, effectively, and impartially investigate this crime, clarify its motives, and judicially determine the connection it may have with journalism and freedom of expression. The authorities should not rule out the exercise of journalism as a motive for murder and/or aggression before the investigation is completed. The authorities should also provide adequate resources and specialized personnel to the institutions responsible for the investigation of this type of matter.

Both the Commission and the Court have referred to the chilling effect that crimes against journalists have for others and other media professionals, as well as for citizens who wish to denounce abuses of power or unlawful acts of any kind. This chilling effect can only be avoided, according to the Inter-American Commission, "through the decisive action of the State to punish those responsible, as befits its obligation under international law and domestic law." 

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states: "[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. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.