Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and laws provide for freedom expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.
Freedom of Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.
Media associations and NGOs expressed concerns about revisions to the penal code in January that criminalize certain speech, including on social media, regarding terrorism.
Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (including social and political commentators, talk-show hosts, and bloggers). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.
Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported two killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year. For example, on January 17, journalist Igor Abisai Padilla Chavez was shot and killed. There were also many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.
Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest (see section 2.b.). Several senior state officials made public comments that local and international civil society organizations interpreted as threatening towards their members. This included the minister of environment, who in January suggested police should arrest members of international NGOs reporting on corrupt activities, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court at the midterm review of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, who stated domestic and international civil society acted in their own interests and presented false information that indirectly incited violence. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anti-Corruption Council, and Organization of American States’ Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) reported receiving threats. Among others, Olivia and Berta Zuniga, the daughters of killed activist Berta Caceres, reported being targets of multiple threatening incidents. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public sector union leaders (also see section 7.a.). On April 13, melon-sector union leader Moises Sanchez Gomez reported being attacked by several individuals who warned him to cease his union activities. His brother Hermes Misael Sanchez Gomez was injured by a machete in the attack.
The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization continued to strengthen implementation of the 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators. A key part of this law was the creation of a national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and others protected by law. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available for the protection of human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.
The government allocated a budget of 10 million lempiras ($424,000) in 2016, and 15.2 million lempiras ($644,000) in 2017–10 million lempiras ($424,000) from the National Budget for the operation of the mechanism, and an additional 5 million lempiras ($212,000) for protective measures from the Security Tax for the protection mechanism. By June 30, it had 27 permanent and contract staff. As of June 30, the mechanism had received 81 new requests for protection, of which 62 met the requirements of the law and were accepted. This increased the total requests for protection since the law’s approval in 2015 to 168. Of these, it had accepted 118, and from these, 14 cases were closed because the beneficiaries had left the country or had rejected the protection measures. The remaining 104 cases included 73 human rights defenders, 19 journalists, three social communicators, and nine justice-sector workers. Of these requests, 17 were from persons who were already beneficiaries of protection measures mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. As of June 30, the Ministry of Security had transferred eight cases to the protection mechanism of 66 outstanding IACHR orders for protection in the country.
The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of October 2, the VCTF had remitted 25 cases to the Public Ministry, carried out 34 raids with judicial orders, executed 12 warrants for capture, detained 26 persons involved in crimes, and obtained six judicial sentences.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.
Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. On September 7, indigenous Garifuna community activist Miriam Miranda issued an alert that police were attempting to arrest her following charges of slander brought by international businessmen over land disputes between the businessmen and Garifuna communities.
A health ministry official charged a union activist with slander after the activist filed charges with the Public Ministry that the official had paid to have him killed following his public statements about corrupt activities in a regional hospital. The Public Ministry conducted an investigation and brought charges against the official, but a judge found insufficient evidence to continue to trial. The official subsequently brought charges of slander against the union leader. A judge dismissed a request by the union leader to dismiss the charges and ordered the case to proceed to trial.
National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In June MACCIH issued a report detailing the necessity of changing the law to effectively combat corruption.
Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 30 percent of the population used the internet.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces had not evicted the individuals within a specified period of the occupation. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. As results were delayed in the close presidential election, protests related to perceived fraud and manipulation of results broke out in late November and early December. Human rights organizations alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force in postelection violence and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Some protesters were violent, attacking security forces and members of the media with weapons such as rocks and Molotov cocktails, killing at least one member of the security forces in December, damaging public and private property, and limiting access to public and private facilities. On several occasions police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent protesters. Authorities temporarily detained protesters wielding rocks, machetes, and other dangerous items and would sometimes press charges.
On August 15, during a protest over a hydroelectric project in the community of Pajuiles, police used tear gas to disperse the protesters and arrested five individuals for instigating violence. Protesters claimed they became violent only after police arrested the peaceful protest leaders and allegedly assaulted a pregnant woman in the process.
Many civil society leaders and organizations condemned a decision by UNAH leaders authorizing police to evict protesters on September 8 from the Tegucigalpa UNAH campus. During the eviction civil society organizations criticized police for excessive use of force against a group of students and human rights activists. The students claimed university security personnel locked them in a campus building when police ordered everyone to leave the campus. Police attempted to detain the students after they escaped from the locked building, at which point they locked themselves in a vehicle with human rights defenders who claimed they had arrived to monitor the situation. A video surfaced showing police pepper-spraying the group as they left the vehicle. Several of the individuals required medical attention, and police reportedly failed to provide it. The police claimed they used appropriate force and only acted following aggressive actions by some of the students. The Police Purge Commission called for the police officers involved to be suspended and the launch of a formal investigation. On September 26, a judge upheld charges of trespassing against the students and charges of attacking state security for three human rights activists.
Law enforcement evictions of protesters, land rights activists, and others were generally conducted peacefully, although injuries were occasionally reported. As with the UNAH students, the government charged some individuals with trespassing after they occupied disputed land or public buildings and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending. Civil society organizations claimed that by doing so, the government was criminalizing social protest and favoring powerful business and political elites that had acquired resources through corruption and other criminal activity.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The penal code prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,270 to $2,540) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public sector unions expressed concern over some officials refusing to honor existing bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.
In-country Movement: In practical terms there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
In 2016 UNHCR estimated there were approximately 174,000 IDPs in the country. In 2016 CONADEH identified 87 new cases of forced displacement and 370 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. The CPTRT reported 166 new cases of forced displacement as of September. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).
The government maintained an interinstitutional commission to address the problem of persons displaced by violence, which focused on policy development to address IDPs. In 2016 the commission presented a draft law to the cabinet for the prevention of internal displacement and protection of internally displaced persons that would clarify the role and presence of the commission and the types of government assistance provided to IDPs. In 2016 CONADEH also created a Forced Internal Displacement Unit (UDFI), in cooperation with UNHCR. The UDFI responded to claims of forced displacement with a focus on humanitarian assistance to victims and documentation of incidents and trends. Observers criticized the government for focusing on IDPs from a security standpoint, and not protection, and noted the commission and government response were hampered by limited budgetary resources, which prevented the law’s passage or the development or implementation of a holistic government response to internal displacement. On September 12, the government authorized the creation of an independent Secretariat for Human Rights effective January 1, 2018. The secretariat is to have a directorate to address IDP rights. The government hosted the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference in October and volunteered to be part of a UNHCR pilot program to respond to displacement.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants. As of April authorities had received 14 applications for asylum, of which they approved three and continued to process the remainder.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Human rights organizations criticized government officials for lack of access and responsiveness. Some human rights organizations claimed that government officials made statements about activists and organizations that constituted threats or harassment (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Some civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to comply with, or inadequately complying with, rulings by the Inter-American Human Rights Court and protection measures ordered by the court and the IACHR.
Government Human Rights Bodies: A semiautonomous commissioner for human rights served as an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses. A vice ministry of human rights and justice resided in the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. On September 12, the government officially authorized the creation of an independent Secretariat for Human Rights effective January 1, 2018. The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of human rights abuses by government officials. The congress had a Human Rights Committee. The Ministries of Security and Defense both had human rights offices.
The government continued to implement 37 recommendations from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission created after the 2009 political crisis.