Honduras

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HONDURAS There is a public perception, which emerges at town meetings and even in the media itself, that the Honduran government manipulates some journalists and a sector of the media. The scarcity of professional journalists and legislation that clearly violates the right to freedom of information continue to be problems. One such legal restriction derives from the 1979 law establishing the Journalists Colegio of Honduras, which provides that no one who is not a member of the colegio can work as a journalist. The law also calls for fines to be imposed on companies that hire journalists not licensed by the colegio. Honduran criminal law, moreover, mandates imprisonment for those working illegally as journalists. A recent case relating to this state of affairs is that of Maribel Sánchez, a journalist working on one of the UNICEF programs. The colegio notified UNICEF's resident representative in writing that he was employing an unlicensed press secretary. The colegio has also filed complaints with a district attorney against a number of journalists, accusing them of working illegally. Their cases are currently under investigation. Other legal restrictions include an article in the Criminal Code mandating imprisonment for journalists who tarnish the reputation of public officials. Specific affronts to freedom of the press are described below. The Honduran courts have yet to rule on charges brought against journalist Arnulfo Aguilar of the newspaper La Prensa, who was indicted in 1999 on allegations of wrongfully accusing someone of a criminal act. Aguilar had investigated and accused judges on the San Pedro Sula Court of Appeals of accepting money in connection with a case in which a gang of drug traffickers with ties to the so-called "Atlantic Cartel" walked free. At the end of last year in El Progreso (Yoro) on the country's north coast Julio César Pineda, a journalist and news director for the Catholic Church station Radio Progreso, survived an attempt on his life. In his criminal complaint to the police, Pineda asserted that the attack was the result of the critical stance he had taken on community issues and institutional weakening in the country. In November 2000 a San Pedro Sula criminal court acquitted Arnulfo Aguilar of insulting a public official. Aguilar had made public an investigation of Judge Martha Delia Merino de Ayala for misplacing a set of credit cards that had been seized from a gang of escaped convicted drug traffickers from the United States. In December journalist Serapio Umanzor of La Prensa, against whom a criminal complaint has been filed by Aura de Herrera, an attorney and wife of congressman Francisco Herrera-Doninelli, was required to post bond to avoid being held in jail after the court hearing the case determined that it had been properly filed. Even though Umanzor had limited himself to publishing a substantiated complaint that identified the complainants by name and reflected all sides of the story, Umanzor was charged and the court allowed the prosecution to proceed. On March 9, 2001 the Inspector of Courts launched an investigation of Judge Fany Turcios of the Fourth Criminal Trial Court of San Pedro Sula, who had restricted press access in a case involving seven physicians charged with involuntary manslaughter of a minor. The judge asserted that the case should remain confidential, but the complaint alleged judicial bias toward the defendants. On March 13, 2001 criminal court judges in La Ceiba barred the press from seeing the record of trials of military personnel and drug traffickers. The violation of the right to freedom of information emerged after the Police Court acquitted an individual who acted as a "go-between" for drug traffickers.

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