CPJ condemns attacks against Honduran journalists

New York, May 10, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about a recent wave of violence and intimidation against journalists in Honduras, including the abduction of a radio journalist and two attacks on television journalists.

“A climate of unrelenting hostility toward Honduran journalists is restricting the flow of news and eroding citizens’ right to information,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “This situation endures because Honduran authorities have yet to take decisive action to enforce the law and guarantee the safety of journalists.”

Alfredo Villatoro, a host and news coordinator for HRN radio station, was kidnapped from his car early Wednesday morning. Villatoro’s car was found abandoned later that day in a neighborhood with known gang activity, the radio’s station manager told CPJ. News accounts reported that the journalist’s family had received a demand for ransom.

On April 26, unidentified gunmen in a red truck shot at the house of television journalist Selvin Hércules Martínez at least 20 times, according to news reports. Martínez, a correspondent for broadcast network JBN Internacional in the northern town of Omoa, arrived at the house five minutes after the attack, he told CPJ. His wife and two children, who were home during the shooting, were unharmed, but the attack killed Martínez’ dog and damaged the façade of the house, he said. The journalist told CPJ he did not know what had motivated the crime, but said that he had recently reported on the mayor of Omoa allegedly refusing economic assistance to a local citizen.

The next night, unidentified gunmen with AK-47s repeatedly shot at television journalist Elder Joel Aguilar’s car on the highway in the western state of Copán, according to news reports. Aguilar, a correspondent for Channel 6, tried to escape and crashed into a barrier at a nearby gas station, the report said. The journalist and his companion were unharmed, but his car had been hit at least 14 times, news reports said. Local police said they were investigating the attack to determine whether it was linked to Aguilar’s reporting, according to news reports.

Honduras is one of the world’s most violent countries. A 2011 United Nations report found it has the world’s highest per capita homicide rate, with 82.1 murders per every 100,000 inhabitants.

CPJ has also documented threats against human rights defenders who report for local outlets. Dina Meza, a human rights activist who covers human rights issues for the local website Defensores en línea, told CPJ she had received text messages that threatened sexual violence and were signed “CAM,” the acronym for “Commando Álvarez Martínez,” a pseudonym used in the past in other threats against journalists, the website reported. Meza has frequently reported on the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region. She has also received threatening phone calls from unknown callers, she told CPJ.

A climate of violence and widespread impunity has made Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the region, according to CPJ research. The government’s stance on media killings has worsened the situation. Authorities have minimized crimes against journalists and been slow and negligent in pursuing the culprits.