Honduran journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado was convicted on charges of criminal defamation on December 9, 2013, according to local human rights groups. The Supreme Court of Justice sentenced the journalist, who hosts the news program “Mi Nación” on Globo TV, to 16 months in prison on charges of damaging the reputation of the rector of a local university.
The charges stemmed from broadcasts on “Mi Nación” in 2006 that discussed the appointment of Belinda Flores de Mendoza as dean of the economics school at the Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH), according to the court ruling. The broadcasts alleged irregularities in the granting of degrees while she was in her previous position at the university. Flores filed a criminal defamation suit against Alvarado, as well as against Carlos Gustavo Villela, a professor at the university, and Guillermo Ayes, the head of the teachers’ association at UNAH, the ruling said.
While appearing as a guest on Alvarado’s show, Villela had denounced Flores’ appointment to the university. Ayes had written a press release questioning the dean’s appointment, which Alvarado had cited on the show, the ruling said.
A Tegucigalpa court in 2011 found the three men innocent, but Flores appealed the decision and the Supreme Court found Alvarado guilty, while upholding Villela and Ayes’ verdict. In the ruling, the court dismissed Alvarado’s defense that he had merely cited the opinions of others, and said that by voicing the allegations he had damaged Flores’ honor and reputation.
Alvarado told CPJ in March 2014 that he was able to stay out of jail by paying a daily fine of 10 lempiras (US 50 cents), but that the court could decide to implement part of the ruling that would ban him from practicing his profession during the 16 months of his sentence. He told CPJ that his lawyer is looking into filing an appeal.
Globo TV and its sister radio station have frequently been targeted by authorities in the past. In December 2013, Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina, the Globo correspondent in the state of El Progreso, was murdered in unclear circumstances. Globo was the target of serious attacks and multiple broadcasting disruptions after reporting critically on the aftermath of the 2009 military ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya.
For more than a decade, courts and legislatures throughout the region have found that civil remedies provide adequate redress in cases of alleged libel and slander. But some governments in the Americas have continued to use archaic criminal defamation laws to silence dissent.