PARIS – The killings of five journalists in March and another reporter’s decision to flee into exile made Honduras the world’s most dangerous country for media professionals in the first quarter of 2010, Reporters Without Borders said on Friday.
The Paris-based media watchdog, known by the initials RSF, also denounced the “impunity” that has reigned in the country in recent months, noting that “no one has been brought to justice for any of the murders or any of the physical attacks or acts of intimidation or censorship of journalists and human rights activists since last June’s coup.”
The two most recent slayings of reporters occurred on March 26, when Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez, who worked for the Excelsior and Super 10 radio stations, were shot dead inside their car in eastern Honduras, near the town of Juticalpa.
Those two killings capped off a deadly month in which five journalists were slain.
Meanwhile, Jose Aleman, a correspondent for Radio America and the Diario Tiempo newspaper, was forced to leave the country after an attempt on his life on March 26.
RSF said Aleman “took the risk of reporting violations of free expression and human rights that have taken place since last June’s coup.”
“Shortly after he received telephone threats, two gunmen opened fire on his home in his absence. He was then pursued through the streets but managed to escape.”
RSF also noted that it is one of the signatories to a petition sent to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose government holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union.
The petition calls on the Spanish premier to withdraw an invitation for Honduras to attend the 6th EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit in Madrid on May 18, saying that his administration should not recognize the new Honduran government led by Porfirio Lobo.
RSF said in its statement on Friday that “a resolution is needed at the European level, and other levels, urging the new Honduran government to react to this collapse of the rule of law.”
Former head of state Manuel Zelaya was dragged from the presidential palace and sent into exile last June 28 after being accused of seeking to extend his stay in office.
Although Zelaya snuck back into the country and took up refuge at the Brazilian Embassy while a de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti was in power, he was never reinstated as president and elections were held on Nov. 29 in which Lobo emerged the winner.
Domestic foes of the coup, backed by human rights organizations and most foreign governments, said a free and fair vote was impossible given the repression imposed by Micheletti’s regime, which killed some two dozen people, imprisoned hundreds and repeatedly shut down independent media.
In a press release on March 16, RSF quoted sources as saying that TV news editor Nahum Palacios, killed two days earlier, “had been mistreated and humiliated on several occasions by soldiers … since last June’s coup” and that his political situation was “delicate.”
However, the group also noted in a March 3 press release that TV journalist Joseph Ochoa was killed in a March 1 attack that probably targeted fellow reporter Karol Cabrera, “a very outspoken journalist who openly supported Zelaya’s removal in a coup last June and is often involved in media controversies.”
RSF also has called attention to the threat posed to journalists by drug cartels, noting that radio journalist David Meza Montesinos, killed on March 11, had reported getting threats three weeks ago after a report about drug trafficking.
The press group said in a statement on Meza’s death that “drug cartels nowadays pose the biggest danger to the Western Hemisphere’s media and the Honduran Atlantic coast serves as a major way-station for traffickers.”
RSF also said in that same statement it was “shocked” by the March 8 appointment of retired army Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez to head the national telecommunications company Hondutel, adding it is “unthinkable that Gen. Vasquez should not be called to account for the human rights violations that took place during the coup, in which he played a key part.” EFE