Honduran community radio director shot; staff threatened

New York, March 25, 2011–Honduran authorities must thoroughly investigate a recent shooting attack against a community radio director and provide protection to the station’s staff after repeated death threats, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.       

Franklin Meléndez, 35, who directs the Voz de Zacate Grande community radio station in southern Valle province, was shot on March 13 at a local bar, according to CPJ interviews and local press reports. Meléndez told CPJ that he was approached by two men angered by the station’s critical coverage of local land disputes as he and two colleagues were playing billiards. According to Meléndez, one of the men threatened him and as he was retreating, the second man shot him in the left thigh. A second shot was fired but missed him.

The two assailants, who Meléndez recognized as relatives of a prominent landowner in the region, followed him before the radio director was able to flee on bicycle, he told CPJ. He was later driven to a hospital in nearby Choluteca, where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet.

“The shooting attack and threats against Voz de Zacate Grande radio are disturbing in a country where nine journalists were killed with total impunity in the past year,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge Honduran authorities to swiftly investigate the case and ensure that the radio station has the necessary protection to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

Voz de Zacate Grande, affiliated with a community land rights association, is known for critical reporting on issues affecting the local communities in southern Honduras. Its regular reporting on issues relating to health and education services, the environment, and land disputes has led to harassment and threats, Meléndez told CPJ. Following the shooting attack, Meléndez said that the radio station received threatening, anonymous calls asking correspondents if they were prepared to die for their work.

Meléndez’s wife filed a formal complaint on Monday. The journalist said his house is being watched and that unknown individuals have been knocking on his windows at night.

Voz de Zacate Grande, which is broadcast to five small communities in the Zacate Grande peninsula, has faced multiple attacks since its founding in 2010. Meléndez told CPJ that many of his correspondents are hesitant to cover public events because they fear intimidation from local authorities. In late December, two correspondents were detained and their equipment confiscated while covering a confrontation between police and community members when a family was being evicted, Meléndez said.

Nine journalists have been killed in Honduras since March 2010–at least three in direct reprisal for their work, CPJ research shows. In July, a CPJ special report found a pattern of botched and negligent investigative work into the killings.