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Honduras: Restore Press Freedom Immediately

Emergency Decree Prohibits Criticism of De Facto Government

(New York) - Honduras's de facto government should immediately rescind an emergency decree that severely restricts press freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. Honduran security forces seized the offices of Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur television early today and shut down their broadcasting, two days after the decree was issued. Both broadcasters have been openly supportive of deposed president Manuel Zelaya.

The de facto government issued the decree on September 26, 2009, prohibiting all public statements that offend public officials or question government decisions. It empowered the National Communications Commission to use the police or military to suspend broadcasters who do not comply.

"Roberto Micheletti has effectively outlawed public criticism," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "This kind of decree has been the norm for authoritarian rulers - from Chile's Pinochet to Cuba's Castros - who tolerate freedom of speech only when it favors the government."

The decree is effective for 45 days.

International law recognizes that states may temporarily derogate from some of their human rights obligations, but only under exceptional circumstances, including in time of war, public danger, or another emergency that threatens the independence or security of the state. Such temporary derogations, however, must be strictly limited to the exigencies of the situation, and not restrict rights more than is absolutely necessary. The provisions in this decree effectively shutting down free press do not meet those criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the coup and repeatedly called on the international community to exert concerted and effective pressure, including targeted sanctions, to press for an end to human rights abuses and the restoration of democratic rule in Honduras.

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