Honduran journalist sentenced to 10 years in prison for defamation

Journalist David Romero Ellner, director of Honduran media outlets Radio Globo and Globo TV, was sentenced on March 14 to 10 years in prison for having committed six crimes of injuria and defamation against former public prosecutor Sonia Gálvez.

Gálvez, wife of Assistant Attorney General Rigoberto Cuéllar, filed a lawsuit against Ellner on Aug. 20, 2014, accusing him of having defamed her repeatedly with “a clear desire for retaliation,” according to El Heraldo.

According to excerpts from the complaint of the former prosecutor against Romero that were published in El Heraldo, Gálvez was one of the prosecutors that in 2002 condemned the Honduran journalist, accused of raping his daughter, to five years in prison and five years probation.

However, for Romero, there is another motive for this sentence. In July 2015, the journalist told the news agency AFP that he had received death threats since publishing a report about corruption and embezzlement of national social security institute, which also indicated that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández may be involved.

At the time, the journalist also said to AFP that “they already had a hitman waiting at the national penitentiary, waiting to kill me” in retaliation for exposing the President’s alleged involvement in a corruption case.

However, Hernández’s government denied being involved.

Romero, who was sentenced to complete a year and eight months imprisonment for each one of the six counts of defamation, will remain free during the appeals process, La Tribuna reported.

In Honduras, as in many other Latin American countries, defamation is still punishable by imprisonment, forcing many media to choose self-censorship in relation to allegations of irregularities against public officials and authorities.

Recently, the director of Venezuelan newspaper Correo del Caróni, David Natera Febres, was sentenced to four years in prison for defamation and injuriaThe complaint concerned reports published in his newspaper about cases of corruption in a state mining company.

In this regard, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has said that the use of criminal law “to penalize expressions about matters of public interest and public servants is disproportionate and therefore violates the right to freedom of expression.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.