May 2017 Honduras Coup update
Journalist bashed and tortured covering attacks against a student occupation
Journalist and human rights defender Ronnie Ezequiet Huete Salgado has a long history of having worked 17 years in journalism including having taught in UNAH and in private universities and has been on the scene to document many human rights violations in Honduras. In the beginnings of the coup he received death threats in relation to his work. On the night of 24.5.17, Ronnie received a phonecall from an anonymous person; the caller told him that there was an uni occupation taking place and that people’s lives were at risk, so he went immediately to the university to cover and intervene in the capacity of a journalist. As he arrived he saw a group of ESPA company UNAH privately contracted guards around the buildings – he approached and asked them what was happening, and they responded that they were not authorised to give statements. Ronnie went towards the admin building and saw a group of students who had faces covered, and the students gave their testimonies on what was happening. Ronnie proceeded to a lower level of the building where he saw a group of students in confrontation with another group of people who also had faces covered, but who had shirts removed and were holding batons. Ronnie began recording with his phone with which he can transmit live for the Brazil-based internet media for which he is an international correspondent. As tension rose higher and higher he called national and international press and also called his dad. Ronnie then tried to intervene and mediate, but it was too late, the shirtless hooded group jumped from the lower floor to the parking lot where the students were to chase and attack them. The baton-holders began to bash one of the doors towards the reception office of the building, then they swung towards Ronnie and sprayed his face with toxic pepper gas. Ronnie said he was an international correspondent and human rights defender and showed his international journalist ID, they responded by snatching his phone and ID, and began beating him with batons and kicked him to the ground. He kept insisting he was working as a journalist and they beat him harder and harder. Ronnie thought he was going to die and begged them to stop. Ronnie remembered the hooded person who ordered them to stop beating him was also shirtless and wore black pants with green stripes (perhaps that is part of the security company uniform, as he mentioned that detail about a few of these shirtless attackers) – they lifted him off the ground and told him not to move. Ronnie insisted that he was a journalist, and they told him to shut up or be bashed again. They watched him. Ronnie felt his hands and eyes burn from the pappergas, and pain on the right hand and many other parts of his body from the torture and beating. Ronnie told them he needed medical assistance, they ignored him. He doesn’t know how much time went by before he heard that another human rights defender was present and he took the risk to get away to seek help. He managed to leave the parking lot, and met his dad and a human rights defender at the reception office. Once accompanied he tried to request his phone and international journalist ID back, but was refused. The human rights defender said lets go, you need to see the doctor now, so the three went to exit the campus. On the way out a police contingent was outside waiting for them, saying they had an order to arrest anyone who leaves the building. Each showed what IDs they had – Ronnie had a journalist association ID in his pocket, but they proceeded to arrest him. In that condition of just having been beaten and needing safety and care, he was instead kept in a police cell for about 36 hours, without medical attention, sleeping on the floor, breathing in nauseating smells, with limited access to food and water. When he was finally to be heard in court, Ronnie was cuffed by feet and hands. He was asked his version of the events, and he told the judge how he was tortured. Having said that he feels even more vulnerable. Ronnie was charged the same charges as the students, and accused of being part of the student occupation. Ronnie is psychologically traumatised and is in fear for his life and needing protection.
Students arrested and smeared
There were twenty students involved in this uni occupation, 4 women and 16 men. They occupied protesting in solidarity with three student activists (Moisés Cáceres, Cesario Padilla and Sergio Ulloa) who have been locked up, demanding that they be freed and the charges be dropped. In those early hours of 25/5/17, students were first chased and sprayed peppergas by masked and unshirted security guards and then police and military entered UNAH without any required judicial orders (police and military are not supposed to enter autonomous uni campuses unless they have a court order to) to complete the eviction and arrest all students. All twenty students were held for 36 hours in the police cells, and charged with ‘provoking damages to the director’s building’ (the office door that the security guards hit, perhaps?). All students were cuffed by their hands and feet as they were taken into court for the bail hearing. The main witness for the hearings against the students is none other than the retired soldier Roger Aguilar Flores who is in charge of the ESPA security team.
As that initial court process was going on, UNAH director Julieta Castellanos spoke for over an hour at the university council meeting, in which Julieta made a series of statements to smear and incite hate towards the arrestee students who occupied. Her statements included that ‘those violent students unless they get controlled are the future of the Islamic State in this university’, she showed pictures of some of these students being student representative candidates saying they are from the Libre political party and showed pictures of Libre and Anticorruption party and PINU assemblies to show that some of these youths attended some of these assemblies.. she made comments saying that the youths who participated in this had psychological problems. She said she would sue the students that dare question her 8 years in her position, saying she will not allow it. And on the use of media by students and by her, she warned, ‘we already know who manages the page and we are going to call because they always say we don’t know who manages the page and we are going to call Mr Vice Director’ referring to Ayax Irias. ‘We are going to commission a TV slot’ against the students, she said, as they had done during student protests in 2016, through Televicentro corporation. Julieta said that there are no agreements to drop any charges. She said, she would not tolerate more protests at uni. The university authorities also went on to send a public press statement that labelled students organised in the Uni Students Movement MEU of UNAH as ‘anarchists and trotskyists’ – naming especially psychology student Marcio Silva – this was in response to a prior meeting in which students told university authorities that they would not accept the prolonging of the mandate of the current authorities that are due to finish in September 2017, since every time students exercise their rights to protest they are repressed violently.
Journalist under threats
On 22.5.17, Ricardo Patiño, journalist and director of the tv news program ‘Telavisión Edición Estelar’ spoke up about threats he has received through social media and that he was physically attacked back on 7.4.17 by a councillor of the Tela Atlántida council of the Liberal Party, Francois Ligeard, and that it was in the presence also of the prosecutors coordinator, the health director and other municipal staff of Tela, and that Francois Liegard afterwards made pejorative remarks against Ricardo on facebook. Through the same social media, the councillor Francois Ligeard made threats to hurt Patiño and another journalist Andrés Abelino Matute. Francois Ligeard has also sent threatening messages to Ricardo by mobile text messages. Ricardo has also received threats from another council employee identified as David Interiano who said on his facebook ‘the one who talks a lot of shits, their days are numbered’. Ricardo Patiño fears for him and his family’s safety and holds the mayor responsible for anything that may happen to them. These threats began after Ricardo began covering news on acts of corruption in the council headed by mayor Mario Alberto Fuentes Morales. He also gave coverage to the communities Mezapa and Pajuiles, who have for 49 days kept paralysed the building of a hydroelectric dam being set up there. Back in May 2016, Patiño spoke up about his TV program in a christian channel being closed because of political pressures from the same mayor Mario Alberto Fuentes Morales.
Garífuna community leader and journalist arrested and charged with land usurpation
On 18.5.17 in the afternoon, a community leader and member of general coordination of Ofraneh (Honduran Black Fraternal Organisation) as well as a Garífuna correspondent for Radio Progreso, César Geovany Bernárdez, after leaving an Ofraneh directive committee meeting, was arrested accused of usurping a land. The land he is accused of usurping is ancestral collective Garífuna land for which there was an illegal sale to the Canadian company Carivida (represented by Patrick Forseth) by the Santa Fé municipality council in 2013. In these times, an ecotourism project managed by Garífuna women of the Guadalupe community was establishing, but which had trouble establishing itself because of a wave of violence then by a group of fugitives who established themselves nearby and committed a series of killings. In 2012 when Ofraneh heard rumours of land sales, Ofraneh sent a statement to the Santa Fé council requesting that any admin processes for such sales be stopped – this was ignored. The Garifuna people have since 2008 placed charges against the Santa Fe council and in 2013 against mayor Noel Ruiz for sponsoring illegal sales of land to ‘involved canadians’, prosecutors never followed up on these charges, but they are prosecuting Cesar Geovany Bernárdez, who has been a major voice against the installation of Carivida’s tourism project on their Garífuna community land. And, the community was of course never consulted about supposed development plans.
Camera person gravely wounded
On 31.5.17, at about 10.30pm, when Televicentro cameraperson René Alberto Ortega (aged 29) was riding home from work on his motorcycle, through the barrio Buenos Aires in Tegucigalpa, René was shot at 6 times, 4 of the gunshots hit his body, 2 shots on his back, one on his neck and one on his left arm. He was immediately taken to hospital where after surgery, he remained in intensive care. It was not a robbery-assault since his motorcycle and objects of value were not taken from him.
Back in early April 2017, Delta Apparel (US company in Honduras) fired 40 Honduran workers. Of the 40 fired workers, 25 workers (22 women and 3 men) are demanding their jobs back. All 25 garment workers have sustained work injuries like musculoskeletal disorders – without their jobs they cannot access the treatment they need. They need to be reinstated under rehabilitation in work that is appropriate to their health conditions. They were fired with full knowledge of – because of, their injuries. All fired workers had worked for the company for between 10-19 years. The company in its marketing claims, as they all do, to be a ‘socially responsible company’.
Soldiers obstruct journalists and threatened them with prison
On 30.5.17 in Morocelí, El Paraíso, soldiers tried to take the camera equipment of several camerapersons from different medias who were there trying to cover the news. One soldier was for a whole minute holding and claiming the large camera of a journalist who never let go of the camera while others intervened telling the soldier to let go and pointing other cameras. When asked if there was an order to obstruct media, soldiers said no, but continued to try to take journalists’ cameras. Soldiers while herding journalists away from the area made between the lines threats to say that the journalists were going to prison.
Indigenous and black women of Honduras working together
Over 550 women of 6 peoples of Honduras gathered as indigenous and black Honduran women sharing thoughts and strategies on defending their culture, territories and common goods. They travelled to Tegucigalpa and gathered for 2 days. They shared their experiences of persecution faced in struggles against mining and hydroelectricity companies that plunder and marginalise their communities. They spoke up against the racist and patriarchal system which is embodied in the mining projects in collusion with the different arms of the Honduran state. They paid homage to Berta Caceres, her struggle and her emancipatory ideas, and demanded justice for her, 15 months after her assassination.
Politicians’ objection to decriminalising journalism work
Journalists association and groups of journalists campaigned for the elimination of an article in the criminal code, article 335-b which says ‘who publicly or through media or diffusion destined to the public makes apology or justification of terrorism crime or that had participated in its execution or will incite other individuals to commit terrorism or finance this, will be punished with the penalty of 4-8 years in prison’. Congress president Mauricio Oliva Herrera was on the other side of this campaign objecting this decriminalisation move. He gave examples of journalisms he considers unworthy that this law deters – journalists covering that people burnt down a Burger King, or that students occupy the university, or in protest burn buildings, or occupies channel 10 and break its windows .