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Judge rules that closure of media outlets did not violate free expression

(C-Libre/IFEX) - On 12 April 2010, Judge Martha Murillo, of the Tegucigalpa Criminal Court, ordered a "definitive stay of proceedings" in the case against the former president of the National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL), Miguel Ángel Rodas, and the commissioners that form the board of directors, effectively freeing all those accused.

Rodas, Héctor Eduardo Pavón, Germán Enrique Martel and Gustavo Adolfo Lara had been accused by the Public Prosecutor's Office of abuse of authority for shutting down and seizing equipment from Canal 36, Cholusat Sur and Radio Globo, on 28 September 2009, during the wave of free expression repression at the time of the coup d'etat.

According to Judge Murillo, the "definitive stay of proceedings" was decided upon because the seizure and closure of the media outlets was carried out during a "state of emergency" and therefore the action was not a violation of free expression.

The special prosecutor for human rights in the Attorney General's Officer, Sandra Ponce, said that her office does not agree with Murillo's ruling, which "represents a clear violation of human rights in the country."

"Murillo decided that no crime was committed. However, she did not properly consider the sanctity of the right to information and the stipulations of Atrticle 187 . . . The attorney general's office is going to appeal the decision this week," said Ponce.

Article 73 of the Honduran constitution says that media equipment cannot be seized or confiscated, nor can media outlets be shut down or have their work interrupted. This right must be upheld and is not one of the conditions that may be suspended during a state of emergency.

The director of Canal 36 and Cholusat Sur, Esdras Amado Lópe, his lawyer, Marcos Zelaya, and Ponce were all present at the hearing. Rodas and the rest of the commissioners facing the accusations were not there, but were represented by their lawyer.

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