May 25, 2000
Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé
President of Honduras
Boulevard Juan Pablo II
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned for the safety of Julio César Pineda, coordinator of the press department of Radio Progreso in the town of El Progreso, near the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Pineda was seriously wounded in an attempt on his life three weeks ago.
CPJ has strong reasons to believe that Pineda was attacked because of Radio Progreso's coverage of local labor, health care, and immigration issues, and because of his own work on a local human-rights commission.
On April 26 at around 6:30 p.m., two unidentified individuals shot Pineda outside his home in San Pedro Sula, according to CPJ's sources in Honduras. The journalist, his wife, and their two children had just arrived home on his motorcycle when two men got out of a white van with no license plates. One of them grabbed Pineda and shot him in the forehead. The attackers then fled without taking anything, making robbery an unlikely motive. Pineda, who was wearing a helmet, survived the shots, but was left crippled and bleeding. He remained hospitalized for 26 hours and received medical treatment for nine days.
In the months prior to the attack, Radio Progreso had documented cases of medical malpractice in El Progreso's hospital; had denounced the Honduras Medical Association for refusing to work with a Cuban medical brigade after Hurricane Mitch; and had opposed a bus-fare increase in El Progreso. According to Pineda, this coverage angered local doctors and bus owners.
As coordinator of Radio Progreso's press department, Pineda represented the station on a joint commission that was investigating executions of gang members and former gang members in El Progreso. The commission's report, released at a recent public forum in El Progreso, hinted at local police involvement in the murders. At the forum, the local chief of police, César Augusto Somoza, told Pineda: "You have to be careful of what you say," according to the journalist himself and Omar Serrano, the director of Radio Progreso.
Pineda had received threatening phone calls prior to the April 26 murder attempt. And on April 18, a vehicle followed him on the road from El Progreso to San Pedro Sula. After the April 26 attack, the police took three days to start an investigation and 14 days to generate an identikit picture of the attackers. The journalist is currently at home recovering from his wounds. He is still receiving calls from people who hang up as soon as he answers the phone, and his wife claims to have been followed by unidentified individuals.
CPJ fears that Julio César Pineda's life is in imminent danger. We call on your government to ensure the safety of Pineda and his family, to conduct a complete investigation into this attack, and to ensure that the perpetrators are punished to the full extent of the law.
Ann K. Cooper