Lawyers back Honduran journalists against law that could violate freedom of expression

The Honduran Bar Association joined dozens of journalists who protested the morning of Aug. 16 outside the Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa to demand the repeal of Article 335-B of the Honduran Penal Code, which they consider to be contrary to freedom of expression.

Article 335-B of the recently reformed Honduran Penal Code opens the possibility that communicators or media outlets could be accused of "making justifications for terrorism" or "inciting hatred" by consideration of a judge or prosecutor.

One of the appeals of unconstitutionality presented against the controversial law will be discussed by the  Honduran Supreme Court plenary on Tuesday, Aug. 22, as confirmed on the day of the protest by presiding judge Rolando Argueta after meeting with representatives of the journalists.

The president of the bar association offered legal advice to the Association of Journalists of Honduras (CPH for its acronym in Spanish) in its battle against the controversial article, which was approved in February of this year by the Honduran Congress. Since then, journalists have approached different entities in their attempt to have Article 335-B repealed.

"[We want] to join with the Association of Journalists and with such a noble profession. As a Bar Association, we are called to defend the Constitution and international human rights treaties, such as freedom of expression and free expression of thought," the president of the Honduran Bar Association, José María Díaz, said to the channel Telesistema Hondureño. "We are the lawyers who must emphasize when these injustices occur and somehow help to dispel them."

Also present at the protest were the president and members of the Honduran Press Association (APH).

"We were of the opinion that 335-B was reformed so that there wouldn’t be a concept as general, as open as that of the justification for a crime," Díaz added. "But after having seen that after four months of passivity, 335-B is still in effect, we have joined the official position of the Association of Journalists in order to repeal it totally and so that journalists are not threatened for exercising their profession.”

The CPH said in a statement that, despite their protests and rapprochement with authorities, they do not see that the Congress of their country has the will to repeal the law that, in their opinion, criminalizes the work of journalists and violates guarantees in terms of human rights, especially in relation to freedom of expression, both under the Honduran Constitution as well as the American Convention on Human Rights and the Law of Expression of Thought.

"The article can be applied at any time to a journalist for the simple fact of reporting on an incident that could be typified as an act of 'terrorism,’" said Dagoberto Rodríguez, president of the Association of Journalists, according to the newspaper El Heraldo. "We do not have a monopoly on freedom of expression. It is believed that we are in this struggle because it affects us directly as journalists, but the Association is part of Honduran society."

Journalists also claim that the passage of Article 335-B was illegal because it did not follow the procedure laid out in its country's constitution, according to which any bill that seeks to amend or repeal a code can not be discussed without taking into account the opinion of the Supreme Court. That did not happen with 335-B.

In June, the Public Ministry of the Central American nation declared that article 335-B was unconstitutional and issued a recommendation to the Supreme Court to declare it unenforceable, according to La Prensa newspaper. One of those will be heard by the Supreme Court on Aug. 22.

The Honduran Bar Association also supported the journalists in the event of a possible appeal to international bodies.

"We hope to not go there. It is a lack of political will on the part of Congress to be able to repeal the article,” said Carlos Ortiz, president of the Honduran Press Association, to the channel Telesistema during the protest. “I perceive that there is no will either from the legislators of the national Congress nor from the President. As they have already stated, that it does not affect freedom of expression, but you have been able to observe the situation we journalists have. We are afraid of being prosecuted and taken to the [penitentiary center] Pozo I or Pozo II.”

Another protest took place simultaneously in front of the facilities of the Judicial Power in the city of San Pedro Sula, in the north of the country, by the branch of the Association of Journalists of Honduras in that locality.

In both demonstrations, the protesters carried banners with slogans against article 335-B and some used tape on their mouths as a gag to express their defense of 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.

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