Managua, Nicaragua, February 26, 2020 -- Honduran authorities should investigate threats made online against journalists at the news outlet El Perro Amarillo and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 19, El Perro Amarillo, an independent online broadcaster, published leaked recordings that allegedly showed officials in the national prosecutor’s office hiding evidence in organized crime cases and working with criminal groups.
Since the leaks were published, social media users have threatened El Perro Amarillo’s director Milton Benítez and other journalists on the team, Benítez told CPJ in a phone interview.
In one video, which CPJ reviewed but has since been set to private, a Facebook user named Luis Rodríguez said that Benítez is on a list of journalists to be killed in 2020. The video had been viewed more than 50,000 times before it was set to private.
Several anonymous internet users have also sent threatening messages, according to Benítez and Katia Lara, a documentary producer for Terco Producciones who collaborates with El Perro Amarillo, who spoke to CPJ via phone. In a screenshot of one such message shared with CPJ, an unnamed Facebook user told Benítez that he was going to die, and that he hoped his mother and children had their heads cut off.
Lara said the journalists have received so many such messages that she has stopped reading them.
Lara told CPJ via phone that the El Perro Amarillo team previously contacted Honduras’ national protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders to ask for assistance after receiving other threats in October 2019, but authorities simply told them to call an emergency phone number if they were in danger. She said they have called that number multiple times since then, but no one has answered.
“The Honduran journalist protection mechanism must respond seriously to the online threats against El Perro Amarillo’s team and take appropriate steps to ensure the journalists’ safety,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Reporting on alleged government misconduct is a public service and journalists who do so should not face personal attacks or threats of violence.”
CPJ called the Honduran attorney general’s office and Danilo Morales, the director of the protection mechanism, for comment, but no one answered the calls.
Since publishing the leaked recordings on February 19, internet users have also spread rumors that Benítez had ties to drug trafficking groups, including in a post on the Facebook page Política Viral, which has been shared more than 100 times, Benítez said.
Benítez launched El Perro Amarillo on local TV station Channel 26 in 2017, and it aired until June 2018, he told CPJ. Since then, the outlet has continued to broadcast on social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube, covering politics and human rights issues.
The outlet was also the subject of harassment after it published a series of reports in October 2019 alleging that Banco Atlántida, a corporation based in Honduras, was involved in criminal activity including consumer fraud, Lara said.
After publishing those reports, El Perro Amarillo journalists were followed by suspicious vehicles without license plates and approached by unidentified armed men in an apparent attempt to intimidate them, Lara said.
In October 2019, Banco Atlántida sued Benítez for civil defamation and slander, in a case that was closed due to lack of proof on January 22, 2020, Benítez said. However, Banco Atlántida president Guillermo Bueso also sued Benítez in civil court in January, accusing him of crimes against his honor, according to Lara, who said that case is still ongoing.
CPJ emailed Carlos Girón, a spokesperson for the bank, for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.
"This is a process to intimidate us, so we do not continue publishing this information, but we know that we have support from the Honduran people," Benítez told CPJ via phone.
At least six journalists have been murdered in direct retaliation for their work in Honduras since 1992, including Valle TV reporter Leonardo Gabriel Hernández, who was killed in March 2019, according to CPJ research.
[Editors' note: This article has been changed in its fifth paragraph to correct Lara's affiliation with El Perro Amarillo.]