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When Defamation is the Prelude to Violence

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

On September 26, 2018, we released a statement expressing our solidarity with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ in Spanish) and concerns for the safety of the organization and its coordinators, Víctor and Martín Fernández, in the face of newly released defamation campaigns.

We denounced the campaigns, drawing attention to the targeted pattern of violence against human rights defenders, journalists, and attorneys in Honduras. As seen in the past, most notably in the case of Berta Cáceres, smear campaigns serve as precursors to serious violence that escalate over time and too often lead to death. Last week, two separate incidents unmistakably demonstrated that the level of threat for MADJ activists continues to be high.

First, on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 9, Ians Rivera was kidnapped while driving in San Pedro Sula. Ians is a human rights defender in Honduras and a volunteer for MADJ based out of Tela, where he was active in the post-election protests. Armed men pulled him out of his car and into a black truck, leaving his car on the side of the highway.

MADJ quickly released an alert which circulated around social media until Ians was located later that evening. Police found him alive near El Progreso, Yoro. However, his captors beat him before abandoning him. Ians arrived at the police station at 9 pm, shaken but poised to answer questions from police and media. In the press conference at the police station in El Progreso, Ians explained that he suspects that he was kidnapped because of his work as a human rights defender. His captors remain at large.

The second incident occurred on Thursday morning, October 11 around 9 o’clock. Fredy Molina, a member of the youth contingent from the protest camp at Pajuiles, was taken by transit police and detained for supposedly “disrupting public order”. In the hours following his detention, concerned members of the community and MADJ called police stations in the surrounding areas to find him, however, police denied that he was detained on several occasions.

Finally, in the late afternoon, he was located in Tela under police custody. He faced abuse during the incident as seen through the bruises present on his arms and chest, and, although a minor, was held in a cell with other prisoners.

Both Ians and Fredy have already faced threats and violence in the past for their involvement in defending human rights. For example, state security forces beat Ians during the repression that followed the fraudulent presidential election of last year. Fredy has received threats for his involvement in the community of Pajuiles as they resist a hydroelectric project and, consequently, are now recipients of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Violence against human rights defenders in Honduras is an unfortunately common occurrence and a tool frequently used to silence dissent. WfP recognizes the life-threatening dangers against social movement activists and human rights defenders and continues to stand in solidarity with MADJ as well as accompany its members, like coordinator Martín Fernández, through this dangerous time.

These incidents fit into a continually escalating strategy to intimidate MADJ and stop their critical work. Threats made through defamation campaigns ramped up into abductions and physical abuse against both Ians Rivera and Fredy Molina. Ians was kidnapped in a public manner to send a clear message to him and MADJ to back down. The community of Pajuiles was specifically targeted in the most recent defamation campaign, and Fredy from that community was targeted when he was unjustly detained. As we anticipated, violence is following defamation, and we fear for the safety of MADJ and its constituents.

Once again, we urge the international community to stand in solidarity with MADJ in the face of these threats and take action to defend human rights in Honduras. Currently, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are circulating a sign-on “Dear Colleague” letter in the U.S. Congress to the President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo to address the escalation of threats in Honduras. The letter urges them to investigate and condemn recent threats against human rights defenders, journalists, and international human rights observers. Call your Member of Congress and ask them to sign onto this letter using the script copied below to take immediate action to protect important actors in Honduras, like MADJ, that seek to protect human rights, transparency, and justice.


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