Campaign: Julio Ernesto Alvarado

On 9 December 2013, the Supreme Court of Justice in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa sentenced Alvarado to one year and four months in prison for allegedly defaming University Dean Belinda Flores.

The case dates back to 2006, when three editions of ‘Mi Nación’ in June and July that year included coverage of Flores’ appointment as dean of the Economic Science Faculty of the National Autonomous University of Honduras and her alleged involvement in influence peddling and falsification of university degrees in a previous post at the university.

Flores subsequently accused Alvarado of defaming her in a lawsuit that also included two of the journalist’s sources. The first was Carlos Gustavo Villela, a lecturer in the UNAH’s Economic Science Faculty who appeared as a guest on one of Alvarado’s programmes. The second co-defendant was Guillermo Ayes, president of UNAH’s teachers’ union, which had reportedly published a communiqué expressing concern about administrative misdemeanours by Flores.

A court of first instance in Tegucigalpa found all three not guilty on 25 March 2011. However, Flores lodged an appeal on the basis that Article 160 of the Penal Code covering defamation had allegedly been misinterpreted. On 9 December 2013, on the basis of the same evidence, the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the ruling for Villela and Ayes but overturned it for Alavarado, finding him guilty of defaming Flores and sentencing him to a 16-month prison term and ban on practising his profession.

Alvarado intends to appeal the sentence. He has also made complaints to the National Commissioner for Human Rights and the non-governmental organisation Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras.

If the sentence is confirmed he will be unable to work as a journalist for the entire 16-month period.  A final decision in the case must take place by 9 June 2014. In the meantime the threat of imprisonment and the work ban seriously compromise his ability to report freely and cover sensitive subjects. Moreover, since the publication of PEN International’s report Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, Alvarado has been subject to increased harassment and surveillance.

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