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Media and journalists increasingly harassed in run up to elections

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 23 November 2009 - Freedom of the press, an important component of free and fair elections, is being undermined in the run up to presidential elections in Honduras. ARTICLE 19 is concerned that journalists and the media are facing mounting pressure. Those who opposed the 29 June 2009 coup continue to be threatened and harassed.

One of the few television stations that have openly opposed the coup, Channel 36, has been experiencing technical problems with broadcasting. On 20 November the channel's signal was jammed and replaced with rolling films, and on 22 November Channel 36 was taken completely off air and remains so. Immediately after the coup in June, Channel 36 was closed and occupied by the Armed Forces and only re-opened weeks later.

Harassment against director and editor Jhonny Lagos and reporters from independent monthly newspaper El Libertador has been increasing since Honduras' ousted President Miguel Zelaya returned to the country on 21 September. Lagos reports being under constant surveillance by a group of unidentified men, and told ARTICLE 19 that due to the presence of police and soldiers at the newspaper's offices, he has asked reporters to work from a remote location for their own security.

"The de facto government has forced us to work underground in a context of complete uncertainty and with a lack of legal protection," explained Lagos.

According to various sources, El Libertador's photographer Delmer Membreño was kidnapped and tortured in September and has now fled the country. More recently, two unidentified men driving a black Ford truck have been following El Libertador's head of sales and distribution Jhonny Josué Sevilla.

ARTICLE 19 participated in an international mission to Honduras in November in conjunction with other international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations. The Mission was able to confirm that Honduran media and journalists, especially those working for community radios, are experiencing widespread harassment throughout the country.

"Free and fair elections cannot take place when the right to freedom of expression is being systematically undermined," says Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. "An open, safe and pluralistic debate is essential to democratic elections. ARTICLE 19's recent mission to Honduras sadly confirms its previous analysis of the situation in Honduras: the current conditions are simply not conducive to the holding of free and fair elections."

ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community to use its influence and power and insist that the elections be postponed until all guarantees for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press can be provided throughout the country.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the interim government, the police and the armed forces to refrain from and investigate all acts of harassment and censorship against the media and journalists. The interim government should also adopt all necessary measures so that Channel 36 can return to air.


BACKGROUND:

President Miguel Zelaya was ousted on June 29th and forced into exile by the Armed Forces led by the President of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, who is now head of the de facto government. Presidential elections are scheduled for November 29th. President Zelaya is now leading the resistance movement from inside the Brazilian Embassy where he has taken refuge immediately after his return to the country on September 21st.
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