Honduran court imposes 16 month professional ban on journalist

New York, October 3, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the decision by a Honduran appeals court to forbid journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado from practicing journalism for 16 months as part of a criminal defamation conviction. Alvarado hosts the daily news program “Mi Nación” (My Nation) on Globo TV.

“The decision to ban Julio Ernesto Alvarado from his profession for 16 months is outrageous,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We have called on Honduran authorities to decriminalize the country’s archaic defamation laws in the past. To have a court censor a journalist from doing his job is absurd and violates all precepts of freedom of expression.”

The August 22 decision–which Alvarado’s lawyer Kenia Oliva Cardona told reporters she was notified of only on September 26–overturns a decision by another court in the capital, Tegucigalpa, in April, to lift the ban. Alvarado will now take his case to an appeals court and then the Supreme Court in Honduras, and has asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take up the case if that fails, according to news reports. Dina Meza, a local human rights activist and correspondent for the press freedom organization Reporters without Borders, who is providing Alvarado with legal advice, told CPJ the ban will not go into effect until Alvarado exhausts his legal options in Honduras.

The charges stemmed from a series of broadcasts on “Mi Nación” in 2006 in which the appointment of Belinda Flores de Mendoza as dean of the economics school at Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH) was discussed, according to the original 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, head of the teachers’ association at UNAH, the ruling said.

While appearing as a guest on Alvarado’s show, Villela had denounced Flores’ appointment, and Ayes had written a press release questioning the dean’s appointment, which Alvarado cited on the show, the ruling said.

A Tegucigalpa court in 2011 found the three men innocent, but Flores appealed and, in December 2013, the Supreme Court found Alvarado guilty, but upheld 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. The court sentenced Alvarado at that time to 16 months in prison.

Alvarado told CPJ in March that he was able to stay out of jail by paying a daily fine of 10 lempiras (US$0.50), 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. When a different court in April lifted the ban, according to news reports, Flores appealed and, last month, the criminal appeals court ruled in her favor.

Independent television network 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, according to CPJ research. 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, according to CPJ.

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.