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Honduras23 May 2002

Journalist could face 14 years in jail for "spying" and "illegal" journalism

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today that Honduran radio journalist Sandra Maribel Sánchez could be arrested and jailed for 14 years for "spying" and "illegally" working as a journalist. It urged the judge in the case not to issue an arrest warrant and to drop legal proceedings. Sánchez had broadcast on her show, "Contra Punto," carried by Radio América, an illegal tape-recording of a phone conversation between two public officials.

"The legal action taken against her is an attack on the free flow of information guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Honduras has ratified," said the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard, in a letter to the judge, Nery Velasquez. "A conversation between two public officials is a matter of public interest, so it is the content of it, not its revelation, that is shocking," he said. Noting that Sánchez was accused of "illegal journalism" because she did not belong to the national Journalists’ Institute, Menard reminded the judge that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had declared forcing journalists to belong to such institutes to be illegal.

Sánchez, who may also be banned from leaving the country, risks up to eight years in jail on the "spying " charge (Article 214 of the Penal Code) and up to six for "illegal journalism" (Article 293). The charges were made possible after a complaint by former justice minister Vera Sofía Rubí, who is also an ex-head of the state audit board. She was heard in the 1999 broadcast tape speaking to the then president of the supreme court, Armando Avila, arranging to fix a court decision.

In January 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression stated that imprisonment for having peacefully expressed an opinion is a serious violation of human rights.

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