Venezuelan journalists leave Honduras after harassment

New York, July 13, 2009–A group of Venezuelan journalists with the regional television network Telesur and the state-owned station Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) left Honduras on Sunday after being detained and harassed in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The Committee to Protect Journalists reiterated its call on the interim Honduran government to respect freedom of expression by allowing all media to report freely without interference. 

“We are gravely concerned that the media environment in Honduras has become increasingly polarized while the interim government has become more intolerant,” said Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “The interim government claims it acted legally in assuming power. But this kind of crude action targeting a critical media outlet is a clear violation of international law.” 

On Saturday evening, six reporters from Telesur and VTV were detained by Honduran police in the parking lot of their hotel and taken to a police station in Tegucigalpa, the local and international press reported. All were released early on Sunday after Venezuelan diplomats intervened, but were told not to leave the hotel, the press said.    

Fearing for their safety, the group of reporters left Honduras later that day. Also on Sunday, another group of VTV journalists left Honduras. The Venezuelan news agency Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias said that the reporters had been expelled, The Associated Press reported. Honduran authorities denied the expulsion of foreign reporters, and said that the government is not censoring news coverage.

In a public statement, Telesur, a state-owned broadcaster created by the Chavez government, said the journalists’ passports were confiscated and they were threatened. The media in Honduras have become increasingly polarized, with domestic media largely backing the coup. Both Telesur and VTV have reported favorably on ousted President Manuel Zelaya in their coverage of the ongoing political crisis, according to news reports.

Honduras police said Sunday night that the group of journalists had been detained for breaking a curfew imposed by the de facto government following Zelaya’s ouster. They also said that the vehicle the Venezuelan crew was using had been reported stolen by the rental agency, according to the Miami Herald. Honduras lifted a curfew on Sunday.

The interim government, which took power following the coup against Zelaya on June 28, has curtailed freedom of the press, CPJ research shows. Honduran security forces shut down local broadcasters, blocked transmissions of international news networks, and briefly detained journalists in the aftermath of the coup. Sources have told CPJ that the Honduran mainstream media have slanted coverage to favor the coup leaders.