Honduras: Appeal Journalism Ban on Julio Alvarado

By | October 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm | No comments | Campaigns | Tags: , , ,

The following statement originally appeared on the PEN International website.

PEN concerned by journalism ban on founding member of PEN Honduras

PEN International is urging its members and supporters to write to the Honduran authorities about the case of journalist, and founding member of PEN Honduras, Julio Ernesto Alvarado. The director and presenter of Globo TV’s news programme ‘Mi Nación’, Mr Alvarado is currently fighting the reinstatement of a 16-month ban on practising journalism (see below for full case details).

Please use or adapt the template letter below.

Since Mr. Alvarado’s case is under consideration by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), we urge you to copy your letters to officials of the IACHR (contact details provided in template letter below).

Dr. Jorge Rivera Avilés Presidente,
Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras (CSJ)
Poder Judicial de Honduras Centro Cívico Gubernamental
Boulevard Fuerzas Armadas Tegucigalpa MDC, Honduras, CA.
Teléfonos: +504-2275-3183; 2275-3184
Email: comunicaciones@poderjudicial.gob.hn; justiciaenaccion@poderjudicial.gob.hn

Dr. Roberto Herrera Cáceres
Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CONADEH)
Oficina Central
Colonia Florencia Norte, Boulevard Suyapa
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Fax: +504-2231-0204; 2231-0882; 2235-7697; 2235-3532
Email: herreracaceres@conadeh.hn; secretaria.despacho@conadeh.hn; central@conadeh.hn

October 28, 2014

 Re: Request to review case of Julio Ernesto Alvarado, PEN member
barred from journalism, threatened, and intimidated
after covering corruption in state university

Dear Sirs,

I write as a member of PEN International, the writers’ association with Centres in more than 100 countries, to express my deep concern about the ban on practising journalism imposed on Julio Ernesto Alvarado, director and presenter of the news programme ‘Mi Nación’ on Globo TV, due to his coverage in 2006 of alleged corruption by a university dean. In December 2013 Mr Alvarado was convicted on appeal of criminal defamation in a case brought by Belinda Flores, dean of the Economic Science Faculty of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH), and was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence and a work ban of the same length. Both penalties were lifted on payment of a fine by Mr Alvarado, yet the work ban has now been reinstated.

I am also seriously concerned about the death threats and intimidation that the journalist has suffered in the last two years. MrAlvarado is a founding member of PEN Honduras, formally welcomed as a PEN Centre at the 80th PEN International Congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 1, 2014.

In April 2014, Mr Alvardo paid a fine in order to lift the 16-month prison sentence and ban on practising journalism. However, Ms Flores appealed and on August 22, the Penal Appeals Court (La Corte de Apelaciones de lo Penal) in Tegucigalpa ruled that the work ban should be reinstated. The ruling was only communicated to Mr Alvarado’s lawyer, Kenia Oliva Cardona, more than a month later, on September 26.

On 29 September, Mr Alvarado’s lawyer requested the court to reconsider its decision to reinstate the work ban. This appeal was rejected the very next day, on September 30 – an unprecedentedly rapid ruling in the context of the Honduran justice system, where appeal procedures typically last for months or even years. The notification came just hours after Mr Alvarado and journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza spoke on his TV show about his case and perceived irregularities on the part of the Appeals Court, on the evening of September 29. However there was again a delay in communicating the ruling to Mr Alvarado’s lawyer, who did not receive notification until October6 .

On October 9, 2014, Mr Alvarado’s lawyer submitted an application for the implementation of the ruling to be suspended pending review by the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court of Justice (la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia). This action, known in Spanish as an amparo, is a remedy for the protection of constitutional rights where all other routes of appeal have been exhausted.

Procedure dictates that Mr Alvarado’s lawyer should have received a response to this submission within 24 hours, however almost three weeks later this has yet to happen. In addition, she has been informed that the plaintiff’s lawyer has already requested the file to be returned to the court where the case began, suggesting that the judgment is imminently due to be enforced.

In a final attempt to fight the reinstatement of the work ban, Mr Alvarado together with other journalists and members of PEN Honduras appeared before the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court on October 17, 2014 to present 13 more amparos.

PEN considers Mr Alvarado’s conviction and the work ban imposed on him to be politically motivated and a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression. Moreover, it is disturbed by numerous apparent irregularities in due process, which include the following:

  •  Mr Alvarado’s conviction rested on the fact that he had given airtime in three editions of ‘Mi Nación’ in 2006 to two UNAH teachers who alleged that Ms Flores was involved in influence peddling and falsification of university degrees. The journalist was originally found not guilty in 2011 and was only convicted on appeal in 2013, whereas the two teachers who actually made the allegedly defamatory comments were again acquitted. Moreover, the court acknowledged that Ms Flores was actually implicated in some wrong-doing. It is worth noting that Ms Flores, as a dean at a state-run university, is a state employee and public figure who should be prepared to accept a higher level of criticism, as clarified by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 34 on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
  • Once convicted, Mr Alvarado paid a fine stipulated by the court in order to lift his sentence, yet the ban on practising journalism has been reinstated. The speed with which Mr Alvarado’s appeal has been processed is highly unusual in the context of the Honduran justice system and indeed the case itself, which has now dragged on for more than eight years. This sudden haste raises questions about the impartiality and independence of the judicial process, as do the substantial delays in notifying Mr Alvarado’s legal representative of rulings in the appeal and in responding to the amparos.
  • This haste is particularly worrying given Ms Flores’ reported intention to launch civil defamation proceedings against Mr Alvarado once the criminal case is finalised. If such a law suit is successful, she could be awarded large damages which could ultimately lead to Mr Alvarado’s imprisonment, should he fail to pay them.
  • A further cause for significant concern is that in the latter part of Mr Alvarado’s eight-year ordeal he has been subjected to multiple death threats and incidents intimidation, none of which have been properly investigated but which would appear to have a clear link to his journalism.

I urge the Supreme Court of Justice to review Mr Alvarado’s case for violations of his right to freedom of expression and due process as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the ban on practising journalism is dropped and that he is not imprisoned. PEN believes that his conviction for criminal defamation should ultimately be quashed. I call on CONADEH to ensure that this review takes place.

I also call on the Honduran authorities to investigate the threats and intimidation faced by the journalist and to provide him with immediate protection.

Full details of Mr Alvarado’s case are given in this statement.

Yours faithfully,

 

[YOUR NAME AND NAME OF YOUR PEN CENTRE]

 

Copy to:

S.E. Presidente Juan Orlando Hernández
Oficina del Presidente
Casa Presidencial
Barrio Las Lomas
Boulevard Juan Pablo II
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Email: info@presidencia.gob.hn; ministerio@sdp.gob.hn; diseloalpresidente@presidencia.gob.hn; hondurasembassyuk@gmail.com;ivanromeromartinez@yahoo.com; multilateralddhh@gmail.com;

Fiscal General Oscar Chinchilla Banegas
Ministerio Público, Lomas del Guijarro
Avenida República Dominicana
Edificio Lomas Plaza II
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Fax: +504 2221 5667
Twitter: @MP_Honduras
Email: denuncias@mp.hn

Mr Edison Lanza
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Organization of American States
1889 F St NW
Washington, D.C., 20006
USA
Telephone: 202-370-4614
Fax: 202-458-3650
E-mail: ELanza@oas.org; LAthayde@oas.org

Precautionary Measures Section
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Email: cidhdenuncias@oas.org

Mr David Kaye
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Email: freedex@ohchr.org; vkuhn@ohchr.org

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