Honduran journalist who denounced corruption takes refuge in human rights office

Fearing for his life, a Honduran journalist who exposed an alleged corruption scandal implicating the country’s president and ruling political party has found safe harbor at the country’s national human rights office.

David Romero, director of Radio Globo, took refuge at the National Commission for Human Rights (CONADEH for its acronym in Spanish) on July 23.

Romero was in court, accused of defamation and slander by former public prosecutor Sonia Gálvez, when hundred of his supporters forcefully took him from the courtroom and delivered him to CONADEH. Gálvez is also the wife of Assistant Attorney General Rigoberto Cuéllar.

The supporters, some from the leftist LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation) party, broke doors and gates in the process, according to La Prensa.

After Romero found refuge at CONADEH, he said “I’ll be living here, [in] this house of human rights … we’re going to sleep here, we’re going to eat here,” according to AFP.

Romero said that President Juan Orlando Hernández was using the court to have him sent to jail where he could be killed. He claims this is retaliation connected to his reporting on alleged corruption in the social security administration.

Back in May, Romero said he had received threats after reporting about alleged embezzlement that may involve the president, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French).

The journalist “said he had obtained a video of a meeting implicating Hernández (who was congressional speaker at the time) and the managers of 30 bogus companies that were created to embezzle funds from the Honduran Institute for Social Security (IHSS),” the organization added. It also said Romero learned about the threats from an intelligence official who said a contract had been put on his life.

The AFP recently reported that the conservative, ruling National Party has been accused of accepting about USD $94 million from the social security system to finance the 2013 presidential campaign and that the attorney general’s office confirmed that about $330 million was taken. “Hernández admitted some of that money entered the 2013 election campaign which brought him to power,” they added.

Thousands have protested and called for Hernández’s resignation from office.

On July 24, the Honduran government released a statement in response to Romero’s claims that he is “a target of a governmental campaign.”

The government said it was not involved in the case against Romero, which was initiated by a citizen. It also condemned “the violent assault in a courtroom of the judiciary and criticized the use of violence and intimidation to prevent judicial authorities from carrying out out their function in accordance with the Constitution and laws.”

Journalists from Radio Globo and Globo TV have been targets of threats, harassment and death in recent years. Five journalists from the news agencies have been murdered since 2011, according to RSF.

To mark Honduran Journalists Day in May of this year, RSF published a report about the Radio Globo, which it said “the Honduran authorities have had in their sights since the June 2009 coup d’etat” when President Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party was removed from power and exiled.

In an article on the slander case against Romero, Honduran freedom of expression advocacy group C-Libre said that the country “is experiencing a worrying trend of judicial harassment against journalists who expose corruption.”

As of July 25, Romero was still at CONADEH, according to La Prensa.

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.