Voices in Danger: The journalists working under constant fear of harassment in Honduras

Gilda Silvestrucci faces daily dangers in her homeland

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With elections approaching in Honduras, the world awaits the outcome.  It is a country that holds the top position as the most dangerous country in the world, where corruption is rife, and where poverty engulfs 70 per cent of the population.

The question therefore is:  Who will the Honduran people vote in on 24 November 2013 to save them? Incumbent President and  National Party member, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, has served as leader since 2010. Since President Lobo took power, at least 23 journalists have been murdered, the Honduras National Commissioner for Human Rights says.

The most dangerous subjects for reporters to cover include the police and disputes between mining companies and local peasants.  Lobo must now stand aside to allow eight other candidates from the various Parties to vie for the leadership position.

One such newly formed party is called, quite literally, The Anti-Corruption Party.  Despite the amount of work to be done, Hondurans seem to be undecided on how best to tackle the many issues the country faces.  According to the polls, no one candidate will win so it is highly likely that a coalition government will be formed. Whomever enters the highest office of the land, the challenge will be to see Honduras become a safer place for its people to live.

In the meantime, fighting the good fight for Hondurans, have been the Honduran journalists.  Despite the dangerous atmosphere, they have worked to expose government corruption despite the threats, intimidation and, in some cases, the loss of their lives.

Gilda Silvestrucci is one such journalist.  At 40 years old, with a family of three and her mother to support, she works as a radio journalist in Honduras, as a programme director on Radio Globo, and as a correspondent for Telesur and Radio Progreso covering human rights issues.

She was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and therefore knows the terrain well.  From a young age, she always had a desire to help people, and, for her, journalism was the most profound and consistent way she could do so on a broad scale. For the last 16 years she has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of others, often at great risk to herself. 

Gilda says: “Today, I sometimes feel like isolating myself a bit when anxiety overcomes me.  I worry about my health and my children but I cannot allow myself to dwell too much because my children and my mother depend on me.  I felt and still feel afraid for my children, but I press on.   And, the commitment to the cause of others spurs me on even further.”

Though Gilda had heard rumours about the dangers of being a journalist in her homeland, one series of events finally pushed her to near breaking point.  In January 2012 she began to receive threatening phone calls from anonymous callers.  At the time, Gilda was reporting on controversial subjects such as mining, police corruption, and the issue of violence against peasants of Lower Aguán.  It was to be a 10-day campaign of terror that Gilda and her family endured.  

“Strangers started calling my house and my mother would answer the phone,” Gilda recalls.  “They would ask for me, where I was, where they could find me, and insisted that they wanted to give me a package.”

The frequency of the calls escalated, and they started to call her mobile phone.  Gilda recalls the first time they actually spoke to her. “One morning, after leaving a programme in which we addressed the issue of mining concessions, they called me and they also called my older daughter at the same time.  She was with the baby in the house. To me, the caller told me he knew where I was, that I was walking with my son at the time, and that my daughter was alone in the house with the baby and that they were going to kill me.  Immediately, I cut the call. Then I contacted my daughter, and she said the men were calling her telling her that I was alone, and that I was not in the house.  There was also a vehicle that followed me from my home to the radio station.  It was terrifying.”

Gilda had to find a way to place a barrier between her family and the threatening calls.  Gilda recalls, “Later on, they kept calling but I did not answer.  After that, I began to not answer any unknown calls. At one point, my eight year old son answered the phone, and they told him that a taxi was coming for me.  For this reason, I disconnected my home landline.”

The dangerous atmosphere in which Gilda works does not make it easy but her work spurs her on. “Since then, I started to suffer anxiety and panic attacks, for which I had to seek treatment.  The doctors told me that it is post-traumatic stress.  I hadn’t realised the connection before because when all this was happening, my father was very ill and that was also having an impact on me.”

Eventually, Gilda registered a complaint with the Human Rights Committee, and the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Cofadeh), who started an investigation.

“The people who work for Cofadeh gave me support.  We made a public complaint, and the Director advised me to take measures to protect myself.   I declined police protection because on the day of the mining concessions programme, there was a person dressed as a police officer outside the station, taking pictures. On that day, I could have been attacked, so I did not leave the station immediately.”

The investigation did not uncover the perpetrator of the calls, nor the possible motive.  The only thing the investigators found was that the calls were made nearby the radio station itself.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime rank Honduras as the number one homicide capital of the world.  Ruth Dawson, Amnesty International UK's human rights defender programme campaigner, said, “The human rights situation in Honduras is dire and the future of the country hangs in the balance. Journalists who cover human rights abuses, criticise the government or investigate big business face terrifying risks every day.”

Ruth further states, “We hope that the [upcoming] presidential candidates will respond with the urgency that this situation merits. Human rights must be at the core of these elections and reflected in the plans proposed by all eight candidates.”

Gilda and her family’s harassment is no isolated case. The Independent reported on a number of Honduran journalists including Dina Meza, Fidelina Sandoval, and Karla Zelaya.  These are but a few.

Amnesty International and other NGOs receive regular complaints from journalists about harassment, particularly by threats through text messages or mobile phone calls.

Gilda Silvestrucci continues to work fighting for justice on human rights issues in Honduras.

The Honduras Embassy in London was contacted to comment on points raised in this article.  There was no response.

You can read other Voices in Danger stories on the campaign page, here.

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