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Honduras20 February 2004

Reporters Without Borders protests against TV journalist’s jail sentence

Television presenter Renato Álvarez, was given a two-years and eight months prison sentence, suspended for five years, and deprived of some civil rights by a court in Tegucigalpa.

He had been found guilty of slander at a previous hearing of the same court on 4 February.

Reporters Without Borders protested against the 18 February sentencing saying, "it is unthinkable that Renato Alvarez has been condemned simply for asking a question of a minister."

Álvarez has questioned Security minister Oscar Alvarez live on 23 June 2003 on his programme "Frente a Frente" on Corporación televicentro about accusations against around 30 figures, whose names were on a list he received shortly before the broadcast started.

The journalist read out the names, including those of Congressman Eduardo Sarmiento and lawyer Rossel Barralaga, both suspected of links to drug trafficking, according to the list.

Secretary General of the international press freedom organisation Robert Ménard said in a letter to the president of the Supreme Court Vilma Cecilia Morales Montalván that the verdict was "all the more disturbing since in January another court hearing a similar case against Alvarez had acquitted him."

"Moreover, independently of the issue of the journalist’s guilt, we remind you that sentencing a journalist to prison for slander is an excessive penalty that damages free expression". Suspension of the sentence for five years and loss of some civil rights constituted "a disproportionate sentence," he said.

Reporters Without Borders added that it hoped the Supreme Court, to which they journalist intended to appeal, would quash the verdict.

The organisation also recalled that in a text adopted in January 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion clearly said that "imprisonment as a sentence for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious threat to human rights".

Elsewhere Article 10 of the Declaration of Principles on freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights clearly stated that "The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official".

The court, made up of judges Félix Avila, Thelma Cantarero and Enilda Geraldina Mejía, found the journalist guilty of slander on 4 February and delayed sentencing until 18 February.

Álvarez was also ordered to pay the costs of the hearing and have certain civil rights suspended, including the right to vote, administration of property, taking on a public function and parental rights or authority.

Álvarez said he would take an appeal before the Supreme Court. His lawyer stressed that the charge against him contained statements attributed to the journalist that were not those made during the broadcast.

Following the 4 February verdict, the journalist had also said he intended to make a complaint over "threats" by Eduardo Sarmineto and his lawyer, Antonio Ocampo Santos.

During the trial, Ocampo Santos, called on the judges not to force his client to cleanse the stain on his honour "with blood" if the journalist was acquitted.

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