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Journalist shot at, another threatened, six more face lawsuit for reporting on alleged corruption

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns a month-long wave of press freedom violations in Honduras, including a shooting attack on television journalist Geovanny García on 7 September 2007, threats against newspaper reporter Martín Ramírez after he wrote about organised crime, and lawsuits by the head of the state telecommunications company Hondutel brought on 28 September against six journalists who reported on allegations of corruption.

"The press freedom situation continues to be fragile in Honduras, to judge by the acts of intimidation, threats and lawsuits in the past month," the organisation said. "Unfortunately, the authorities have given no serious evidence of their determination to combat impunity and abuse of authority."

RSF added: "We obviously hope the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will urge the government to provide adequate protection to the two journalists who have been the victims of threats and attacks. But giving them protection does not relieve the authorities of the requirement to conduct a broader investigation into organised crime and its ramifications for press freedom. And the defamation lawsuit against the six journalists must not be allowed to encourage self-censorship. The courts must guarantee press freedom."

García, who works for the local television station Hondured, was shot at in Tegucigalpa when two men on a black motorcycle followed him from the station's headquarters. After intercepting him, they fired seven shots at his car. García ducked but one of the shots grazed his hand. García had criticised alleged corruption in road surfacing contracts involving certain staff members of the Department of Public Works, Transport and Housing.

The same day, "La Tribuna" daily newspaper, where Ramírez works, published an article he had written on the subject of Honduras' violent criminal gangs, known in Central America as "maras," and their possible connections with police. The article did not carry his name in the byline, but after the police revealed that he was its author, he and his family began receiving threatening telephone calls.

The National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos) submitted a formal request to the IACHR on 24 September, asking that it take measures to protect García and Ramírez.

In a separate development, Hondutel chief Marcelo Chimirri filed lawsuits on 28 September against Renato Álvarez and Rossana Guevara of television station Televicentro, Melissa Amaya and Juan Carlos Funes of the radio station Cadena Voces, Carlos Mauricio Flores, editor of the daily "El Heraldo", and Nelson Fernández, managing editor of the newspaper "La Prensa". They are accused of "attacking his reputation" by repeating the allegations of embezzlement within Hondutel originally printed in the Mexican daily "El Universal".

A report in "El Universal" claimed that Hondutel personnel were embezzling part of the proceeds from international telephone calls, resulting in significant losses for the Honduran treasury. The six journalists simply repeated what "El Universal" had alleged. A US organisation, the Arcadia Foundation, reportedly has evidence of the embezzlement and of Chimirri's involvement.

Álvarez told RSF that the aim of lawsuits is to intimidate the press and deter it from repeating revelations made in the foreign media in future. "Never in 30 years of working as a journalist have I seen so much intolerance of criticism and media independence," Álvarez said. "They want to silence us so that we no longer talk about corruption in the public administration."

In the past five years, over 20 journalists have been sued by persons claiming their "reputation" had been attacked.

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