Honduras Declares State of Emergency, Suspends Right to Free Expression

Soldiers wearing face masks patrol a neighbourhood after Honduras’ government imposed a nationwide curfew for the seven-day period as part of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

HAVANA TIMES – Honduran authorities must immediately lift newly imposed restrictions on free expression and let members of the press cover the news freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On March 16, the office of President Juan Orlando Hernández published a decree instituting a state of emergency for seven days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which imposes a curfew and revokes several articles of the Honduran constitution, including Article 72, which protects the right to free expression without censorship.

The decree also restricts the right to free mobility and the right to organize social gatherings, among others. Honduras’ law on freedom of expression, which operates under Article 72, protects journalists’ right to work without “any persecution,” even under martial law.

CPJ emailed the Honduran presidency for comment and for clarification about what revoking Article 72 could mean for members of the press, but did not immediately receive any response.

“We are glad to see the Honduran government is taking steps to confront this pandemic, but it should not abuse those measures to restrict free expression, especially at a time when the media plays a fundamental role in keeping society informed and safe,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. “Honduran authorities must ensure their actions to protect public health do not violate citizens’ other fundamental rights.”

The decree went into effect before it was presented to the Honduran Congress for ratification or published in the official La Gaceta government newspaper, as required by law, according to local free expression organization C-Libre.

Yesterday, the spokesperson for the National Risk System, Gabriel Rubí, told broadcaster Radio America that he requested the Ministry of Health and the National Inter-Institutional Security Force to quarantine a group of journalists who had reported from the city of Comayagüela, which is under lockdown after COVID-19 cases were confirmed there, according to C-Libre and news reports.

Honduras has eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of today, according to the World Health Organization.

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