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Honduras: UN officials sound alarm over crackdown on freedoms

2 October 2009 – The head of the United Nations agency tasked with upholding the freedom of expression today led a chorus of UN voices expressing concern over the suppression of civil liberties in Honduras following a coup d’état in the Central American country in June.

Since the return of ousted President José Manuel Zelaya to Honduras on 21 September, authorities have declared a state of emergency, suspending freedom of opinion and expression, movement and association.

“I am deeply concerned about the situation in Honduras,” said UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

“Freedom of expression is a particularly important human right that must be preserved if a durable solution, acceptable to all, is to be found to the crisis,” stressed Mr. Matsuura.

The authorities who took power in June have issued a decree sanctioning the suspension of any media outlet that “attacks peace or public order,” or that broadcasts messages that “offend human dignity, officials, threatens the law or government resolutions” after Mr. Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, and sought shelter in the Brazilian embassy.

“It is important that political tensions in the country be resolved in a manner that is mindful of the rights of citizens to engage in informed debate,” said Mr. Matsuura in a message calling on authorities to reconsider their position in the light of democratic principles.

A group of independent UN human rights experts noted that the decree also allows the police to repress all non-authorized public meetings or demonstrations, and had resulted in the deaths of five people in the last few rallies, including an 18-year-old youth.

“It is worrying that police and military officers are resorting to the use of excessive force, including beatings and shootings, in order to dissolve street protests,” the group of four experts said in a joint news release.

“The result of these interventions has been large-scale detentions, in some cases in non-authorized detention facilities, where those arrested run the risk of being subjected to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the experts added.

The group of experts, who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on an unpaid basis, consisted of El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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