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Community radio station in Zacate Grande faces criminal action

(AMARC/IFEX) - Lawyer Marco Tulio Campos, of the Public Prosecutor's Office, has launched a criminal complaint against six members of the community radio station La Voz de Zacate Grande for land appropriation and attempting to defraud the government for setting up a radio station without first obtaining authorisation from the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL). The radio station submitted a request for an operating licence in early 2009 but the authorities have not responded to the request. The six people facing legal action are Pedro Canales Torres, José Ernesto Laso, Wilmer Rivera Cabrera, Ethel Verónica Corea, Rafael Osorio and José Danilo Osorio.

The radio began broadcasting on 14 April 2010. On that date, private security guards of a prominent Honduran landowner, Miguel Facussé, beat several members of the radio station. Following that incident, radio station employees were subjected to harassment and police pressure.

The radio station's broadcasts focus on providing advice to the rural population, especially as regards the appropriation of land. The conflict with the Facussé family over land ownership dates back 30 years.

A criminal complaint was also filed against the leaders of the Movement for the Recovery of Land in Zacate Grande in connection with their efforts to appropriate land. According to Tulio Campos, the radio station was built on land that belongs to Miguel Facussé. However, Benito Pérez, the secretary of the community governing board, affirmed that the radio station had been built on land that had been taken over 10 years ago. Under Honduran law, 10 years is the time period that is used to determine squatters' rights.

A hearing in front of a judge has been scheduled for 5 May. This is the first time that criminal laws have been used against an unauthorised radio station in Honduras. The defendants face a minimum of five years in jail for broadcasting without authorisation. The criminal proceedings and possible jail sentence that the defendants face is yet another example of the challenging situation for freedom of expression in Honduras. Seven journalists have been killed thus far in 2010. Honduras has yet to implement concrete strategies to halt the violence against media workers.

AMARC - Latin America and the Caribbean calls on the government of Honduras to stop harassing and threatening media workers and to respond to La Voz de Zacate Grande's request for an operating licence. It also demands that the government drop criminal proceedings against the members of the radio station since the station has already demonstrated its willingness to operate within the law.

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