Eight months after the fatal shooting of TV journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina, the murder remains unsolved with little progress in the official investigation. PEN International calls on the Honduran authorities to expedite the investigation and to bring Argeñal’s killers to justice as matter of urgency, in line with a promise the Security Minister made in April 2014 as well as with the Honduran authorities’ responsibilities under domestic and international law. PEN urges the authorities to fully investigate the apparent link between Argeñal’s reporting on corruption and his murder, as well as any links between the killings of journalists in Honduras and their political views. The organisation also calls on the authorities to ensure the safety of Mario Argeñal, who has been subjected to intimidation and other harassment for seeking justice for his brother.
- Write to the Honduran authorities to urge them to:
- Expedite the investigation into the murder of journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina and to bring his killers to justice as matter of urgency, in line with both a promise made by the Security Minister on 1 April 2014, as well as with Honduras’ responsibilities under domestic and international law;
- Fully investigate the apparent link between Argeñal’s reporting on corruption and his murder;
- Ensure the safety of Mario Argeñal, who has been subjected to intimidation and harassment for seeking justice for his brother;
- Investigate any possible link between murdered journalists in Honduras and their political views.
- Share your letter with the Honduran Embassy in your country and ask for it to be forwarded to President Juan Orlando Hernández
- Send messages of support to Juan Carlos’ brother Mario Argeñal (please send to tamsin.mitchell [at] pen-international [dot] org)
- Repost this appeal on your centre’s website and share on FaceBook, Twitter and other social media
Send appeals to:
Minister of Security
Señor Arturo Corrales
Secretaria de Estado en el Despacho de Seguridad
Aldea el Ocotal
Antiguo Local de la Academia Nacional de Policia ANAPO
Email: comunicacionCNDS [at] gmail [dot] com
Salutation: Señor Ministro de Seguridad/ Dear Minister of Security
Señor Oscar Chinchilla Banegas
Lomas del Guijarro
Avenida República Dominicana
Edificio Lomas Plaza II
Fax +504 2221 5667
Email: mprelacionespublicas [at] gmail [dot] com; denuncias [at] mp [dot] hn
Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Señor Fiscal General
Owner of Christian station Vida Televisión and correspondent in Danlí for opposition station Globo TV, Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in his home in Danlí, Paraíso Department, on 7 December 2013. In the months before his murder, he had received threats, including death threats, in connection with his reporting on corruption in a local hospital and in local government.
More than eight months on, Argeñal’s murder remains unsolved. The journalist’s brother, Mario Argeñal, who has been active in demanding justice for the killing, has told PEN International that there has been almost no progress in the investigation – despite the fact that his family has given the police and Public Prosecutor information about the alleged killers and those who ordered the murder.
According to PEN International’s records, at least 42 journalists have been murdered in Honduras since 2003, 36 of them since the coup d’état in June 2009. Over 90 per cent of these murders remain entirely unsolved. Although a few convictions have been obtained in a few – mainly high-profile – cases, most may be considered only partially solved due to the authorities’ failure to prosecute those responsible for ordering the crime.
According to his brother, Juan Carlos Argeñal was killed for exposing corruption in Gabriela Alvarado regional hospital in Danlí, including large-scale embezzlement of funds and theft of supplies by a hospital administrator and local political leader. The journalist broke the story on both his local TV station Vida TV and the national station Globo TV in June-July 2013, and gave numerous media interviews as a result. A few months later, an oversight commission was set up to investigate the alleged corruption and the hospital administrator was reportedly dismissed.
One week before his death in December 2013, Juan Carlos Argeñal told his family he was receiving death threats from people linked to the hospital’s administration. He called the general coordinator of local rights group Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras – COFADEH) to inform her about the threats on 14 November 2013. The journalist had previously received threats, including from local officials for exposing corruption in the mayor’s office, at the beginning of March 2013, which he had formally reported to COFADEH.
Information about these threats was passed on to the police by Juan Carlos Argeñal’s family at the time of his death. However, according to his brother, eight months later the authorities have still not made a request to check the journalist’s phone records – despite the fact that witnesses have testified that on the day he was killed someone called him to sign an advertising contract at his home, where he was murdered. Police have also failed to act on a witness statement from an individual who overheard a known sicario [hit man] saying that he had been asked to kill the journalist, about a week before his death, according to his brother.
Official pledges to investigate and prosecute
On 1 April 2014, Mario Argeñal met Security Minister Arturo Corrales and presented him with a written request to send a specialist team from the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa to investigate his brother’s murder, to be based in Danlí. He says that the regional prosecutor and the investigator suggested that the family ask for outside help because they are too scared to investigate, as the case implicates people with significant political and economic power who are blocking the investigation.
According to Mario Argeñal, Minister Corrales said in the meeting that he believed the case could be easily solved since the crime was clearly committed by hit men and that he would send a team of investigators to the region which would solve the case within 30 days. The name of the team assigned was the Strategic System for the Collection, Collation, Analysis and Storing of Information (Sistema Estratégico de Recolección, Cotejamiento, Análisis y Archivo de Información – SERCAA). According to press reports, this is a newly created undercover police intelligence unit created in March 2014.
SERCAA has visited the region three times, says Mario Argeñal, but there is no team based there as requested. He says he has given them the name and a photo of the alleged hit man and witness statements, as well as a photo of the person he believes ordered the killing. When SERCAA last visited in mid-July 2014, officers reportedly told him that the crime was “90 per cent solved”. However, in order to arrest the suspected hit man they say they need a statement by an eyewitness witness to the murder. Mario Argeñal suspects that, like the local investigators, they are afraid.
Mario Argeñal was himself subjected to intimidation and surveillance by vehicles circling and keeping watch on his house, in December and February 2014. He had given several interviews to national media on his brother’s murder, linking it to his reporting on corruption in local government and had also been liaising with the authorities to seek justice. He has found that each time he appears in the media his security is affected via threatening phone calls and people following him in cars with no licence plates.
An apparent pattern of politically motivated killings of journalists?
Although Mario Argeñal does not believe that there was a political motive behind his brother’s death, there is an apparent pattern of killings of Honduran journalists who are members of opposition parties or who have voiced political criticism of the government.
Mario Argeñal is the coordinator in Danlí of the National Front of Popular Resistance Resistance (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular – FNRP), a coalition of politicians, unions and indigenous groups that supports the Liberty and Refoundation (Libertad y Refundación – LIBRE) political party. LIBRE, which is led by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of former President Zelaya, contested the November 2013 presidential elections, which brought Juan Orlando Hernández into power in January 2014.
At the time of Juan Carlos Argeñal’s death, Mario Argeñal was also Secretary General of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras – COPINH) and a member of the FNRP’s national coordinating body, and well known at national level. It has been suggested that the journalist’s murder was intended to silence Mario.
Juan Carlos Argeñal was himself a member of LIBRE and Vida Televisión had voiced support for the party.
A number of other journalists murdered since the June 2009 coup have also had connections with LIBRE. For example, Hernán Cruz Barnica (killed 28 May 2014) of community radio station Radio Opoa, La Voz de la Esperanza, Copán department, was a member of both LIBRE and the FNRP. Manuel Murillo Varela (killed 23 October 2013), was a LIBRE member as well as working as official cameraman for several public figures, including former President Zelaya and, more recently, for Globo TV. Erick Alexander Martínez Ávila (killed 7 May 2012), spokesperson for the Asociación Kukulcan which promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LBGT) and human rights defender, had recently been designated a pre-candidate for a deputy position by the FNRP’s Sexual Diversity Board for LIBRE’s internal elections
Several other journalists working for Globo TV and Radio Globo – outlets known for their criticism of the coup and government – have also been targeted. In addition to Juan Carlos Argeñal and Manuel Murillo Varela, Globo TV presenter Aníbal Barrow was kidnapped and murdered in June/ July 2013. Another journalist killed in December 2011, Luz Marina Paz Villalobos, had also previously worked for Radio Globo.
Julio Ernesto Alvarado, director and presenter of the news programme ‘Mi Nación’ on Globo TV, has been subjected to threats and judicial harassment. In December 2013, Alvarado, was sentenced on appeal to a 16-month prison sentence and ban on practising journalism for covering allegations of corruption by a local university dean in 2006 and subsequently received threats. Despite the prison term being lifted on payment of a fine by Alvarado in April 2014, the dean is reportedly seeking to re-instate the work ban and launch a civil defamation suit for damages. In May, PEN International called on the Inter-American Commission on Human rights to protect Alvarado’s right to freedom of expression.