This statement was released by PEN International in London on June 4, 2014. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) should require Honduras to adopt precautionary measures to protect journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado’s right to freedom of expression, PEN International said today.

The worldwide organization of writers submitted a request to the IACHR in conjunction with Honduran lawyer Kenia Oliva Cardona and Honduran journalist and rights activist Dina Meza on May 29, 2014. The submission argues that a 16-month prison sentence and ban on practicing journalism for covering allegations of corruption at a local university in 2006 imposed on Julio Ernesto Alvarado, director and presenter of the news program ‘Mi Nación’ on Globo TV, violates his right to freedom of expression under the American Convention on Human Rights.

“Julio Ernesto Alvarado—like many other journalists in Honduras—has been subjected to threats and judicial harassment for years,” Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. 

“We are calling on the IACHR to take a strong stand to support journalists in Honduras who are facing an onslaught from all sides in their practice of their profession by requiring the state to issue precautionary measures.”

At least 40 journalists have been killed in the country since 2003—35 since the coup d’état in June 2009—while others are facing threats, law suits, and other attacks in an attempt to restrict them from continuing their vital work to report and hold officials accountable.

Alvarado’s December 2013 sentence, imposed on appeal, related to a complaint lodged by university deacon Belinda Flores, whose alleged involvement in influence peddling and falsification of university degrees had been covered by three editions of ‘Mi Nación’ in 2006.

Alvarado and two university teachers who had appeared on Alvarado’s show to discuss the allegations had been cleared of the charges in March 2011. However Flores appealed the decision and in December 2013 the Supreme Court of Justice in the capital Tegucigalpa convicted Alvarado of criminal defamation—despite the fact that the non-guilty verdict was upheld for the two teachers and that the Court took as proven that Flores was in fact implicated in some wrongdoing.

Following his conviction, Alvarado was subject to harassment and threats in early 2014 via his Facebook page and that of journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza, who made various posts protesting Alvarado’s sentence. One post to Alvarado’s Facebook account dated February 7 threatened him and his family members with death. PEN International protested Alvarado’s conviction as politically motivated and called on the authorities to investigate the threats against him. Alvarado previously endured months of threats and harassment which culminated in a suspected attempt on his life, and led him to suspend his radio program on Radio Globo in March 2013.

As a result of this intimidation and a lack of faith in the impartiality of the justice system, Alvarado decided not to appeal his conviction, opting instead to pay a fine of 10 lempiras per day of his sentence (around US$250 in total) in order to avoid imprisonment. At a hearing on April 28, 2014, the judge also lifted the ban on practicing journalism. Following the hearing, Alvarado thanked the press for following his case and appealed for unity among journalists, stating: “We must not think of ourselves as journalists of different ideologies, since we are united by the fight to defend our right to express ourselves freely. If we are isolated things will be worse and we could all be imprisoned.”

However, on May 2, 2014 Flores’ lawyer appealed the judge’s decision to overturn the work ban imposed on Alvarado. Flores has also reportedly indicated that she intends to launch civil defamation proceedings against the journalist. If such a law suit is successful, she could be awarded large damages which could ultimately lead to Alvarado’s imprisonment, should he fail to pay them.

PEN’s submission argues that Alvarado is at risk of suffering irreparable harm to his right to freedom of expression via criminal proceedings that have lasted almost eight years and now threaten to strip him of both his right to work as a journalist and his property.

PEN and its co-petitioners call on the IACHR to request the Honduran state to adopt precautionary measures to avoid such irreparable harm to the rights of Alvarado and society in general. The Honduran state should carry out an effective investigation into Alvarado’s case and prevent the implementation of his sentence, argues the petition, which also calls on the state to provide the journalist with police bodyguards in order to protect his life and physical integrity.

Under the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR, the Commission may, in urgent or serious situation request that a state adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to individuals who are under the jurisdiction of member states of the Organization of American States.  The IACHR has previously ruled that a judgment prohibiting the practice of the profession of journalism not only limits the right to freedom of expression, but also causes irreparable damage to the honor of the convicted individual.

Thousands of individuals have been protected under such measures throughout the Americas since the mechanism was introduced in 1967.

In a January 2014 report Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, PEN International, PEN Canada and the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) highlighted the worsening situation for journalists and other writers in Honduras.

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