Honduras decree allows limits on media, rights

Pro-Zelaya demonstrators sit down in the street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Monday.
The Honduran government has issued an emergency decree that allows authorities to limit constitutional rights such as freedoms of expression, travel and gathering in public.

The government had already closed two media outlets Monday, reports said. Authorities say the measure comes in response to unrest that increased significantly September 20 when ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya secretly returned to Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy. Monday marks the three-month anniversary of Zelaya’s ouster June 28 in a military-led coup. The 45-day decree announced Sunday night forbids any unauthorized public gatherings, allows officials to make arrests without a judicial order, and lets the government close down news media that threaten “peace and order.” Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said the Canal 36 TV station and Radio Globo had been reported closed.

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The OAS, a 35-nation hemispheric organization, met in special session Monday morning in Washington. “We are worried by this decision,” Insulza said about the emergency measures. Canal 36 has been the target of gas attacks and had its transmitters blown up since the coup, news reports said. Honduran soldiers were stationed in front of the shuttered TV and radio stations and would not allow anyone to enter, CNN correspondent John Zarrella reported. About 2,000 pro-Zelaya protesters gathered in a three-block area but were hemmed in by police and could not advance. Many protesters wore red shirts and masking tape across their mouths. The situation remained calm and officials indicated the protesters would be left alone as long as they did not try to cross police lines. Honduras has been in turmoil since Zelaya was forced out of the country and replaced by legislative leader Roberto Micheletti hours later. The United Nations, the OAS and the European Union have condemned the coup and demanded that Zelaya be reinstated. Micheletti has vowed that Zelaya will never return to power and has said the deposed president will be arrested if he comes out of the Brazilian Embassy here in the nation’s capital. Amnesty International issued a statement last week in which the human rights group “denounced a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders in Honduras since the June coup d’etat.” Amnesty Intentional also warned that fundamental rights and the rule of law in the Central American nation “are in grave jeopardy.” Said Susan Lee, Americas director at Amnesty International: “The situation in Honduras can only be described as alarming.” The Human Rights Watch organization also called last week for Micheletti’s government “to halt the excessive use of force against protesters and to guarantee other fundamental rights.” Micheletti has accused Zelaya of using the Brazilian Embassy to instigate an insurrection and this weekend gave the embassy 10 days to decide the ousted president’s status. Zelaya has publicly told his followers to avoid confrontations but called on them to march in Tegucigalpa on Monday for a peaceful takeover of the government. Upon his unexpected arrival at the embassy a week ago, Zelaya said he returned for “homeland, restitution or death.” Brazil rejected Sunday the Honduran ultimatum on what to do about Zelaya. At a summit in Venezuela between leaders of South America and Africa, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Brazil “doesn’t accept ultimatums from coup-plotting governments.” In turn, Honduras refused to acknowledge the embassy as Brazilian soil, deeming it a “private office.”

However, that does not mean that the Micheletti’s government “will lose its courteous and civilized manner, and will go inside the establishment,” said interim government Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez. Monday’s OAS meeting came one day after Honduras refused to admit five of six representatives from the organization after the group arrived at the Tegucigalpa airport. Of the group — which included two Americans and a Canadian — only OAS Special Adviser John Biehl of Chile was allowed to stay, though the reason remained unclear.