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Silencing Democracy: Threats Against Honduran Community Radio

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In Honduras, community radio is more than just a news service. It promotes human rights, gives a voice to the voiceless, encourages citizen organization and participation, and provides education to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations. This is why the continuous threats against community radio stations and journalists in Honduras are extremely concerning. Two years after the 2009 military coup that ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, human rights abuses are on the rise, making the role of community radio more important than ever. According to Democracy Now, this March marks the deadliest month on record for Honduran journalists. The abuses against journalists exist in an atmosphere where countless attempts are made to kill, injure, and silence those who stand for accurate reporting and the power of community radio.
   
On March 23rd, a delegation of Honduran human rights activists traveled to D.C. to speak out about the dire human rights situation in their country. Lucy Mendoza, a lawyer who works with the Jesuit-sponsored ERIC institute (The Center for Reflection, Investigation and Communication), raised concerns about the threats Radio Progreso, one of Honduras’ community radio stations, faces on a regular basis. Lucy and two Radio Progreso reporters were threatened in March of 2010 because of their work with the radio station.
   
Radio Progreso is just one of Honduras’ community stations whose mission is to provide education and training to underprivileged youth and promote an inclusive civic culture that values equality. As part of its mission, Radio Progreso reports on human rights, health, and environmental issues. Sounds threatening, doesn’t it?
   
During a congressional briefing sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern here in D.C., Lucy said that just a few weeks ago Radio Progreso staff were systematically and violently searched by military troops after they revealed that they were journalists, going to cover a story.
   
These types of threats and violence are also affecting other community radio stations in the country. On March 25th, community radio director Franklin Melendez was shot, reportedly because of his station’s coverage on land disputes. For more information on Melendez’s community radio station, La Voz de Zacate, read our partner Witness for Peace’s blog here.
   
Amidst the violence and oppression of journalists, several organizations are speaking out. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nine journalists have been killed in Honduras since March 2010 in total impunity. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion also expressed concern earlier this year about the role of the Honduran government in attacking community radio. It’s no wonder why Honduras has been declared the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

The human voice, whether transmitted through radio or in print, is one of the most valuable tools in promoting and protecting human rights. If Honduras hopes to reassert itself as a viable democracy, the silencing needs to stop.