Freedom of Expression

Press Release R316/19

Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns murder of journalist José Arita in Honduras and urges to investigate relation to his journalistic activity

December 4, 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 José Arita, which occurred on November 25, 2019 in Puerto Cortés, department of Cortés, Honduras and notes with concern that it would be the sixth murder against press personnel, so far this year. It also urges the Honduran State to investigate these cases in a complete, effective, and impartial manner, to clarify their motives and determine the relation they might have to journalistic activity.

According to information from the media in Honduras, José Arita would have been attacked with firearms by strangers when he was leaving the facilities of Puerto Vision Canal 12 located in Puerto Cortés, about 200 km north of the capital Tegucigalpa, after finishing his program, "La Hora de la Verdad." The Honduran Police security spokesman, Jair Meza Barahona, reported that the murder may be related to Arita's journalistic work. According to complaints made by the same journalist before the attack that ended his life, in his last program, he said that he would have been excluded from some press conferences and would have announced he would have a lawyer as a guest in his next program to analyze issues concerning the New Criminal Code in Honduras.

This Office has accounted for six murders so far in 2019 in the country, with Arita it would be the second communicator murdered in Puerto Cortés.

On November 21, the Honduran Police collected the body of the communicator and television presenter of Canal 45 of Catacamas (Olancho), Johana Alvarado, who was found dead with signs of abuse and head shots. The causes of the crime would not have been clarified yet.

On November 1, journalist Buenaventura Calderón, one of the coordinators of the Ecos de la Mosquitia news, on Radio Kupia Kumi, in Puerto Lempira, was shot dead together with his wife, María Calderón, who would have died hours later in the hospital. He would have received several bullet impacts before arriving at his home. According to his co-workers, Calderón dealt with issues related to drug trafficking in the area, corruption, and was a defender of the human and territorial rights of misquitos peoples in that region. According to the police authorities, the causes of the murder of the communicator, who was also a merchant, and his wife are under investigation in order to arrest the material and intellectual authors responsible for this double crime.

On August 31, the correspondent for the national television channel Canal 6 and local television station Cable Mar TV, Edgar Joel Aguilar, was murdered by a stranger who shot him several times when he was in a barber shop in La Entrada, Nueva Arcadia municipality (Copán). Aguilar covered police news and, according to local press, days before his death he had received threats through social networks. The communicator would have made a complaint to the Police Investigation Directorate and requested protection. According to the director of the National Protection Mechanism, Danilo Morales, the program would not have been informed about the threats against the journalist. In previous years Aguilar had already been the victim of attacks and threats.

On July 5, television presenter Santiago Carvajal, a rights activist for the LGTBI community, was murdered. The communicator would have been attacked with firearms, by unidentified individuals, in Puerto Cortés. He died hours later at the Mario Catarino Rivas Hospital in San Pedro Sula. Carvajal directed the critical cutting program La Galaxia de Santy, on a local television channel. The causes of the crime would not have been clarified yet.

On March 17, journalist Gabriel Hernández was murdered in the Nacaóme (Valle) municipality. Hernández, directed the program "El Pueblo Habla" of Valle TV. He was shot by two individuals aboard a vehicle, and died hours later in the hospital. The journalist, who also worked as a correspondent for Radio Globo, was known for his strong criticism against the municipal mayor of Nacaóme and the congress deputies of the department. According to available information, the journalist had been subjected to threats, police attacks, and refusals to provide information by the municipal authorities.

According to information provided by different civil society organizations, 81 journalists and media workers would have been murdered in the country since 2001 to date.

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

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, repudiated the murder of the journalist and said that "the State must carry out a full investigation, taking into account the relationship to his work as the main hypothesis of the crime and exhausting all lines of investigation". In turn, he urged the government to investigate the reasons why the National Protection Mechanism of Honduras did not grant effective protection to the aforementioned journalist.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the Honduran State to investigate, in a complete, effective, and impartial manner, this crime, to clarify its motives, and determine judicially the relationship it may have to journalistic activity and freedom of expression. The authorities should not rule out the exercise of journalism as a motive of the murder and/or aggression before the investigation is completed, it must also provide adequate resources and specialized personnel to the institutions responsible for the investigation of such matters.

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have referred to the chilling effect that crimes against journalists have for others media professionals, as well as for citizens who intend to report abuses of power or illegal acts of any nature. This chilling effect can only be avoided, according to the Inter-American Commission, "through the decisive action of the State to punish those responsible, in accordance with 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 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.