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Honduras: Local TV news anchor targeted by flawed trial, smear campaign

This statement was published on rsf.org on 22 February 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is very worried about Jairo López, a journalist in the southern city of Choluteca targeted by both a flawed criminal defamation trial and an intimidating smear campaign, and calls on the Honduran authorities to urgently give him protection and ensure the trial is fair.

The presenter of “El Informador,” a news programme on the Choluteca-based Canal 21 TV channel, López is being prosecuted as a result of a complaint by Alcides Alejandro Aguilar Corrales, the owner of Canal 39 TV and an open supporter of the government.

The lawsuit was brought in September 2015 in response to López's revelations about various cases of alleged corruption, in particular, the alleged diversion of public water supplies by Alcides Alejandro Aguilar Corrales and several politicians and government officials including the speaker of the National Congress.

During the first hearing on 1 February, the judges said they had mislaid the evidence submitted by López's lawyer. They also expelled representatives sent by Peace Brigades International and local observers from ASOPODEHU and other Honduran human right groups on the grounds that they might “defame the plaintiff.” Despite these grave irregularities, the trial is continuing.

“Jairo López's trial cannot continue under these conditions,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF's Latin America bureau. “The Choluteca court must suspend the hearings until the evidence submitted by the defence is located.

“The authorities must also guarantee López's safety using the emergency measures envisaged by the National Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists, and must finally decriminalize defamation, because defamation charges are too often used by the Honduran state to censor critical journalists.”

The judicial irregularities have been accompanied by a major smear campaign against López, one of the Choluteca region's few outspoken journalists. López has often denounced cases of abuse of authority, including influence-trafficking, misappropriation of medical supplies and bogus jobs.

Like other media outlets, López screened a video during his “El Informador” programme on 5 February that showed angry protesters throwing stones at National Congress speaker Mauricio Oliva and the heavy-handed response of his bodyguards, one of whom pointed his gun at the demonstrators. López says it was the screening of the video that prompted the ensuing campaign against him, which has included threats, the strange presence of motorcyclists outside his home, and videos on online social networks portraying him as a criminal gang leader and accusing him of money-laundering and links to local traffickers.

In view of this threatening climate, López has requested protection under the National Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists but no protective measures has so far been put in place. RSF thinks he urgently needs such measures for the sake of his own and his family's safety.

Honduras is ranked 137th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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