Media crackdown in Honduras worsens, says activist

Dozens of Honduran journalists and human rights activists have been attacked or threatened with violence by both the military and supporters of ousted president Manuel Zelaya, a press watchdog said on Monday.

Honduras closed several pro-Zelaya radio and television stations after the army coup that toppled Zelaya in late June and ushered in an interim government led by Roberto Micheletti.

“Freedom of expression is increasingly limited and the overall conditions for journalistic work and media reporting are deteriorating and it could get worse quickly. Everyone’s so tense,” said Agnes Callamard, head of Article 19, a London-based media rights group, in an interview with Reuters.

“Journalists are receiving threats and being intimidated through emails and phone calls. Allegations have been made about extra-judicial killings by state security forces,” she added.

Callamard, who has just returned from a fact-finding mission to the Central American country, said human rights activists were unable to investigate reported abuses in rural areas because of military road blocks and curfews since the coup.

She said Honduras was becoming increasingly polarised and that more violence was likely.

“Simmering tensions, heavy censorship, increasingly confrontational stands, the ingredients are all there for a major and bloody crisis to erupt in Honduras,” Callamard said.
“It’s getting worse in terms of the number of people involved and their resolve. It just needs a few sparks to set it off.”

The political deadlock in Honduras, an exporter of coffee and textiles, has deepened with Micheletti’s refusal to let Zelaya return to finish his term as president ending in January, as requested by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is mediating the crisis.

Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chávez, was ousted as he sought a referendum to change the Constitution, a move the Supreme Court ruled illegal. Zelaya’s critics say he was trying to extend presidential term limits so he could be re-elected, but he denies the claims.

Zelaya vowed on Saturday to return to power through peaceful means and denied he was rallying groups of armed supporters near the border with Nicaragua.

No foreign government has recognised Micheletti, and presidential elections are scheduled for November. But Callamard said conditions for a free and fair vote were not there.

“The media is biased and access to impartial reporting is limited so citizens can’t make a well-informed decision,” Callamard said. “I do feel the situation is going to get worse. There’s no doubt there’ll be more violence.”—Reuters

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