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Small white coffins The photo is taken at a demonstration for freedom of expression in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa in 2016. The white coffins symbolize the 62 journalists who have been murdered since 2010. Photo: Ezequiel Sanchez

”Self-censorship already a fact”

In Honduras, freedom of expression is threatened. Since the coup in June 2009, the tendency to limit the right to demonstrate and the right to organize, through new laws, has intensified. Diakonia’s partner organization, Comité por la libertad de expresión de Honduras (C-Libre) defends journalists’ and activist’s right to protest and express their views.

11/7/2017

Honduras is the most dangerous country for human rights defenders, especially environmentalists. 123 human rights defender and more than 60 journalists have been killed in the last ten years. But it is not just the direct violence that worries, but also the tendency to use the legal system to reduce the civil society’s opportunities to speak up. Since 2009, 3, 064 activists have been charged in rigged trials.

- Before the coup we mainly worked with freedom of speech and threats against journalists, but the last few years, we have been forced to focus more on activists and human right defenders right to freedom of expression and to demonstrate, says Edy Tabora, chairman of C-libre.

- The situation for the free word in Honduras is very alarming. People are thrown in jail for protesting and defending their rights, he continues.

Reforms to limit the freedom of expression

After the coup the political powers in Honduras became even more concentrated and a new economic model was implemented, a model that amongst other things contained guidelines for security policy measures.

In connection with this a series of reforms - affecting the freedom of expression in the penal code - were implemented. Edy Tabora says these reforms were mainly made to enable control of the civil society and the possibility to detain people.

One of the groups who has witnessed how these new laws are used, is the student movement in Honduras. C-Libre has, since the conflict between students and several state universities broke out in 2010, defended the students’ rights to organize themselves and express their dissatisfaction with the current educational system.

- The state’s way to stop the protests has become more sophisticated and efficient. It is no longer executed through direct violence, but through laws and rules, says Edy.

More then 20 o00 signatures

Cesario Padilla is a trained journalist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) and one of the students that have been sentenced for protesting against injustices in the educational system and for the students’ right to organize.

- It all started in 2010. We wanted to implement a conference for student influence. But our wish was met with silence from the University so we gathered more than 20 000 signatures as a protest. When they didn’t listen to that, we started to demonstrate. But we never used violent methods, says Cesario.

The protests continued throughout Cesario’s entire study and as a student of journalism he became responsible for the communication of the student movement. In 2015 he found out that there was a warrant issued for his arrest because of his involvement in the protests

. Together with five other students he was forced to hide during eleven days while C-Libre and a number of other organizations prepared for his, and the other students’ defense. They thereafter surrendered voluntarily. In the rigged trial Cesario and three other students were convicted. Exactly how the sentence is to be served hasn’t yet been established, one year after the trial.

Can't leave the country

- It is complicated to be sentenced and branded a criminal. We’ve received a lot of hate from the University. As of now I can’t leave the country and every week I have to report to the police so that they now where I am. I’ve been invited to several conferences in other countries but I can’t travel, he says.

What worries Cesario the most is the possibility to lose his title and his democratic rights.

- I really like this profession. And I’m afraid they’ll take away my ability to exercise my profession in the future, he says.

During 2016, 77 indictments were aimed at students in the country. The majority of these indictments regarded crimes that are established in the new penal code. The conflict between the student movement and the University continues and during the last year the judges have become harsher. During 2017 two students were sentenced to jail.

A new law on terrorism 

Now C-Libre is worried that the tendency with rigged trials against students will grow after the presidential election this fall and that a new law on terrorism will be accepted, which would limit the freedom of expression further.

- There is no terrorism here. The purpose of the law proposal isn’t to stop real terrorists but to limit social movements that protest, says Edy.

He points out that in authoritative regimes freedom of expression and democratic space are the things that disappear first.

- What we see is disturbing developments where laws are created to silence civil society instead of defend it, he says.

- Peoples’ rights are violated on a daily basis. We can already see a serious effect; the collective self-censorship. People are afraid to express themselves and that was the purpose of these new laws. At C-Libre we work to face these challenges and inform people about their real rights, says Edy.