San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Honduras

Honduran journalist travels to Costa Rica to denounce death threats, beating back home

Ely Vallejo is a Honduran journalist who says his work for the alternative television station Cholusat Sur Canal 36 focuses on bringing to light cases of government corruption.

This line of work has made Vallejo a target of death threats, persecution and a beating, apparently at the hands of members of a newly created military police unit.

The journalist told The Tico Times that his situation – which extends to other members of Cholusat Sur – prompted him to travel to Costa Rica last month to denounce the threats.

A member of Honduras’ LGBT community, Vallejo, who is based in the northern industrial city of San Pedro Sula, some 250 kilometers northwest of the capital, also heads an organization that helps youth in that community. The organization, Jóvenes Bellos Transformistas, operates a television signal via Facebook for the country’s LGBT community, whose access to local media is restricted, he said.

“My situation is one of persecution by the government,” Vallejo said. “Three months ago, they beat me up, members of the Military Police, and I still don’t know why.”

Vallejo reported the incident to the National Commissioner for Human Rights, “but nothing happened.”

“The justice system in my country doesn’t work – at least not for people or for journalists who are against government corruption,” he said.

The night of the attack, Vallejo was heading to his apartment when three members of the military police confronted him. He said the men were wearing part of their uniforms, and two of them attacked him. The third man yelled that the beating was to teach him a lesson.

“If they belong to the Military Police, then it’s the government who wants to kill me. I’m running a big risk,” he said.

The Honduran Policía Militar de Orden Público (Military Police for Public Order, PMOP) was created two years ago by Congress, just before November elections. Those elections were by the then head of the legislature, ruling National Party lawmaker and now president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-2018).

The PMOP carries out regular and specialized police work, and its troops undergo specialized training. In addition to the PMOP, the Congress headed by Hernández also created the Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad, or the Special Security Response Groups and Intelligence Troops, whose acronym TIGRES is the Spanish word for “tigers.”

According to legislation, both security bodies were created to reduce Honduras’ crime rates, among the highest worldwide.

Local human rights organizations, however, see these steps as moves by Hernández to return to the militarization of Honduran police, a reality of former de facto régimes in the 1970s and ’80s.

Vallejo claims that the threats and beating, however, are in no way related to his belonging to the LGBT community, an argument frequently used by Honduran authorities to sweep aside politically motivated homicides, he said.

“I am clearly stating that the threats against me have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I’m a member of the LGBT community in Honduras,” he told The Tico Times.

In Costa Rica, Vallejo met with leaders of LGBT groups and authorities at the regional headquarters of the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law, hoping to draw international attention to his case. Doing so in Honduras is impossible, he said.

Targets of his journalistic investigations include members of the military.

“For example, in the armed forces there are colonels and others … who have committed significant acts of corruption,” he said. “I’ve reported that in Honduras there is social cleansing,” and that “the government brazenly doesn’t want to admit it, although we know it’s true.”

He added: “If I appear dead, … the first thing the government will say is this: ‘Journalist dies in a crime of passion.’

“They’re going to say that my partner killed me, because – and I don’t hide my sexual orientation – they’re going to blame it on him, … just like they did with our colleague Herlyn Espinal,” he said.

Vallejo noted that in that case, which occurred last year, former Public Security Minister Arturo Corrales held a press conference in which he stated that Espinal’s murder was a crime of passion, and that the late journalist was gay.

On July 21, 2014, Espinal, 31, who disappeared the previous day, was found partially nude close to a highway in the area of Santa Rita, a northwestern town on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, according to local press reports. He had been shot several times.

Corrales, now Honduras’ foreign minister, told reporters that it was unlikely that Espinal’s work as a journalist for San Pedro Sula’s TV Channel 3 was linked to the crime.

His homicide is one of approximately 40 committed against journalists after the 2009 bloody coup that toppled Honduran President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, now an opposition congressman.

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