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Honduran police arrest journalist convicted of defamation

March 29, 2019

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduran police broke down the door of a radio station and arrested a journalist known as a strong critic of President Juan Orlando Hernandez who had holed up inside, carrying out an arrest order Thursday against the reporter for a defamation conviction.

David Romero, director of Radio Globo, was given a 10-year prison sentence in 2016 after he was convicted on several counts of defamation for his reporting on the wife of a former attorney general. Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected Romero’s bid for a new trial earlier this year.

The journalist took refuge in the radio station’s offices on Monday when a court made public its decision to arrest him.

“Given the impossibility of capturing him because he’d barricaded himself inside the radio station, police raided the premises to execute the court order,” presidency minister Ebal Diaz said.

Local media showed footage of a group of elite police agents violently breaking into Radio Globo, knocking down doors and searching offices until they found Romero, who was transferred to the Tamara prison on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. Dozens of Romero’s supporters, who for days had demonstrated outside Radio Globo, tried unsuccessfully to prevent his arrest.

“I know they can kill me and, if that happens, the person responsible is the president,” Romero said as he was forced into a police vehicle.

Honduras’ constitution guarantees its citizens the right to honor, and defamation is considered a crime against a person’s honor.

The Honduras-based Committee for Freedom of Expression has counted 41 criminal cases related to crimes against honor since 2003, including 13 targeting journalists. The committee said these cases and the disproportionate sentences “have the effect of intimidation and self-censorship.” It called for decriminalizing such acts.

Romero had repeatedly denounced Hernandez and his family, accusing them of involvement in corruption and drug trafficking.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday asked Honduras’ government to suspend the sentence against Romero and urged it to repeal laws that restrict press freedom.

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