PEN International and Reporters Without Borders condemn the actions of the Honduran Supreme Court in failing to implement a legally-biding order by inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect journalist, Julio Ernesto Alvarado’s right to work in his profession. The Radio and TV Globo journalist’s last possible appeal against a court ban on working as a journalist for 16 months was rejected on 4 September, setting a dire precedent for freedom of expression and information in Honduras.
The Honduran Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeal filed by Alvarado in October 2014 was the final injustice in a drawn-out defamation suit against Alvarado that began being heard in 2013. In November 2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ordered the government of Honduras to implement legally-binding precautionary measures to protect Alvarado’s rights. The IACHR’s decision in Alvarado’s case was a landmark ruling and a clear message to governments in the region to protect journalists and guarantee the right to freedom of expression and information. It is the first time that the IACHR has revoked a ban on a journalist practising his or her profession. Specifically, the IACHR asked the Honduran authorities to postpone implementation of the ban until it had ruled on the substance of the case.
Honduran justice ignored the request just weeks later when it issued an order upholding the ban, but the IACHR’s Precautionary Measures request allowed Alvarado to work until last week. The Supreme Court’s decision is a second violation of the IACHR mechanism, which was created under the San José Pact. As no further legal recourse is available to Alvarado in Honduras, it is now the responsibility of the IACHR to put pressure on the Honduran government to respect its legally-binding order.
“We protest against this Honduran Supreme Court decision and we call for the withdrawal of all the legal proceedings against Alvarado,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Latin America desk.
“This ruling sets an appalling precedent for freedom of information in Honduras and defies the IACHR request, which the Honduran authorities have an obligation to respect. These prolonged judicial proceedings are a sham and a repressive tool against a journalist with one of the country’s most popular critical radio stations.”
The ban is the result of a defamation case that Belinda Flores Mendoza, the former dean of the economics faculty at the Autonomous National University of Honduras, brought against Alvarado for reporting supreme court charges against her on his TV Globo programme “Mi Nación.” Alvarado has also been the target of many acts of intimidation and, since 2012, disturbing surveillance measures. He decided to suspend his programme “Medianoche” in 2013 after receiving constant threats for more than a year.
"Let’s be clear about this. Honduras has legally committed itself to respect rulings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as their last court of appeal. They must respect their own legal engagement. Their Supreme Court ruling on Julio Ernesto Alvarado’s case does not stand." - John Ralston Saul, International President of PEN International.
The judicial persecution of Alvarado reflects the harassment to which all outspoken journalists and opposition media are subjected in Honduras. The authorities have targeted Radio Globo y TV since the 2009 coup d’état. Five of its employees have been murdered since 2011 without any adequate investigation being carried out.This impunity sustains the high level of murders of journalists in Honduras.
Honduras is ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.