Reporters Without Borders today called for Liberal Party representative Romualdo Bueso Melghem, the vice-president of the parliamentary commission for ethnic minorities, to be stripped of his parliamentary mandate for assaulting and trying to strangle community journalist Martha Vásquez, a member of the Lenca indigenous group.
The attack on Vásquez, who is a contributor to the Indymedia website, took place during a public meeting attended by senior officials that was organised by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) on 2 April in the southwestern city of Intibucá.
“This degree of violence is completely unacceptable from a parliamentarian, but all the more so when he is the vice-president of a commission that is supposed to promote dialogue with the indigenous communities,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The COPINH has criticised Bueso’s derogatory attitude towards the Lenca people several times in the past and we hope that this time he will be stripped of his mandate and receive an appropriate punishment,” the press freedom organisation continued. “It would be unthinkable for him to allowed to continue, especially as the health minister and a presidential representative witnessed the attack.”
Health minister Orizon Velásquez and presidential representative Arcadia Gómez were among the participants at the meeting on health issues with some 200 COPINH delegates at the council’s headquarters in Intibucá. It was interrupted half way through the morning when a group of gunmen burst in and said it could not go on without Bueso’s permission.
According to COPINH, Bueso himself arrived a few minutes later and angrily singled out one of the delegates, Salvador Zúniga, telling him “his death was planned and would be easy to carry out.” Suddenly realising Vásquez was recording his threats, he turned on her, hit her, grabbed her tape recorder and tried to strangle her. Two other delegates were injured and received death threats during the incident.
Vásquez’s ethnic group is represented on the COPINH and she was attending the meeting in her capacity as the COPINH’s press and communications representative.