We are holding our breath here at Radio Survivor following the news of the murder of journalist Carlos Mejia Orellana, marketing manager of Radio Progreso in Honduras. A community based radio station run by the Jesuits of Central America Province, Radio Progreso has long been under attack in a country which suffered a military coup against its democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya half a decade ago. As Nation Magazine Honduras correspondent Dana Frank observes, its current President ran for office last year on the promise of a “soldier on every corner.” Apparently none of those soldiers could prevent Orellana’s killing, assuming that they even wanted to.
In fact, as Frank notes, “the military itself has a track record of repression and corruption.” Last July, the Honduras Engineers’ Battalion “shot and killed an indigenous activist, Tomás García, as he peacefully protested construction of a dam. In the Aguán Valley, the Fifteenth Battalion has committed widespread human rights abuses. Constitutionally, the military oversees the balloting process.”
Radio Progreso broadcasts in the northern town of El Progresso. Orellana was stabbed to death in the chest on April 11. The assault has provoked an outcry from United States Representatives James McGovern of Massachusetts, Sam Farr of California, and Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois. The trio warned on Tuesday that they were “troubled” by police statements claiming that the “murder was carried out by someone close to Sr. Mejia Orellana before any investigation had yet begun.”
More from their press release:
“We are very familiar with the important work of Radio Progresso, a community-based radio station that is a work of the Jesuits of the Central American Province. We note that the Director of Radio Progreso, Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, testified before the U.S. Congress at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and described the constant death threats and attacks perpetrated with impunity against journalists in Honduras, including against Radio Progreso, its employees and its research arm, ERIC. Given the level of threats and violence, including assassination, targeted against journalists, the media and freedom of expression in Honduras, we are dismayed that the Government of Honduras has failed to implement protective measures for the employees of Radio Progreso, as called for by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when, on four separate occasions over the past five years, it issued precautionary measures on behalf of 16 staff members, including Carlos Mejia Orellana, of Radio Progreso and ERIC.”
Radio Progreso opposed the 2009 coup against Zelaya. Since then death threats have been directed at fifteen of its employees. Reporters Without Borders urges the Honduran government to reject speculation about the killing and conduct a thorough investigation.
“The authorities urgently need to adopt appropriate measures and apply them in advance to end the cycle of violence affecting Honduran media personnel,” says Americas desk RWB official Camille Soulier. “They should have taken account of the IACHR’s warnings about the threats to Mejía. An effective protective mechanism must be created and applied to all threatened journalists and media workers who request it.”
The banner page of Radio Progreso’s web site now reads as follows:
“Rest in Peace Amigo!”
“Radio Progreso Laments the Tragic Murder of Our Friend and Comrade Carlos Mejia Orellana.”
“In reporting this fact, which fills us with profound pain, we express our solidarity with the family of Mejia Orellana and his friends.”
Update [5:15 PM PST]: United States Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has also released a statement on Orellana:
“Too often, Honduran officials have dismissed threats and attacks against journalists, and questioned whether the violence was connected to the victims’ profession. In Carlos’s particular case, police have announced possible conclusions without even the start of an investigation. Premature and speculative judgments cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a thorough investigation. This must not be yet another homicide in Honduras that goes unpunished.
“Honduran police failed to protect Carlos, despite repeated requests to do so from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The police need to take immediate steps to protect Carlos’s surviving colleagues at Radio Progreso and its research arm, ERIC, who also live under constant threat.”