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Yearend marked by government repression, hostility regarding human rights

Partidarios del candidato presidencial Salvador Nasralla enfrentan miembros de la Policía antimotines, durante una protesta contra la reelección del Presidente Juan Orlando Hernández, en Tegucigalpa, Honduras, el 22 de diciembre de 2017
Partidarios del candidato presidencial Salvador Nasralla enfrentan miembros de la Policía antimotines, durante una protesta contra la reelección del Presidente Juan Orlando Hernández, en Tegucigalpa, Honduras, el 22 de diciembre de 2017

ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

As 2017 came to an end it left in its aftermath a number of negative outcomes and a few advances regarding freedom of expression and human rights.

The Latin American Journalists' Federation (Federación Latinoamericana de Periodistas, FELAP) reported that at least 37 journalists in eight Latin American countries were killed in 2017.

One of the most critical situations unfolded in Honduras, where presidential elections held at the end of November led to fraud accusations and intense protests against the official results that declared Juan Orlando Hernández the victor.

The Honduran government reacted in the worst possible way, using repressive actions that resulted in a number of deaths of protesters and suspending the observance of various human rights. As a result of the extreme situation, a number of Latin American organisations (many of them members of IFEX) united to call on the government to withdraw its decree suspending fundamental rights.

Honduran IFEX member C-Libre subsequently reported however that, instead of the situation becoming calmer, the violations of civil and political rights actually increased.

In Argentina, there is also a complexity of issues. The government of Mauricio Macri is attempting to implement pension reforms that are being resisted by some sectors. Demonstrations carried out in December met with a strong and repressive police response.

These incidents affected the press as more than 40 journalists were injured, mainly as a result of attacks perpetrated by police and, to a lesser degree, demonstrators. Several unions and press associations, among them the Buenos Aires Press Union, protested to Congress, calling for an end to the attacks.

Let it be heard throughout the world. Don't shoot the press! #Camarazo from @aRGra_ and SiPreBA. End the repression #FueraBullrich

Argentinian IFEX member FOPEA also denounced the attacks and condemned the violence perpetrated against media personnel.


The death of Internet freedom

In the United States significant human rights setbacks were experienced, in this case relating to access to information and Internet navigation. Following debates that took place over several months, the United States scrapped net neutrality rules, an action that severely affects freedom of access to the Internet and will result in navigation speeds being tied to the service provider and payment levels.

"The fear is that we will be confronted with an Internet that is only accessible to a few, and an Internet with restricted speed and access to content for most citizens, with attendant impacts on freedom of expression, the right to information and the enjoyment of human rights in general," stated Edison Lanza, the OAS special rapporteur for freedom of expression, when consulted regarding the worldwide consequences of the United States' actions.

Not everything, however, is lost: a number of organisations, among them the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are calling on all US citizens to pressure the government to reverse its decision on net neutrality.


Discrimination in the workplace

On questions of gender, a survey conducted by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demonstrates how horrible the situation is regarding freedoms in the workplace. According to the survey, almost one in two women journalists has suffered sexual harassment, psychological abuse, online trolling and other forms of gender-based violence at work.

The survey results, published by IFJ on 25 November 2017, confirm a trend that has been discussed for years in the profession, but with more fervour perhaps recently owing to the unfolding of the Harvey Weinstein case. Women journalists frequently become the target of this type of abuse because of what they write, or simply because they are women.

The generalised Latin American situation is even worse. Ana Fornaro, founder of "Presentes", an independent digital media outlet focused on highlighting issues of gender, sexual diversity and the demands, opinions and voices of the LGBTIQ communities in Latin America in an equitable and non-stigmatising manner, told IFEX that society in general subjects these communities to "daily ordeals" simply for existing.

As such, Fornaro sees the role of activism around these rights as being crucial, but also notes that there is a key role for journalism in disseminating information about the issues, which is what they hope to do with "Presentes".


In Brief

A year to forget in Mexico: with 13 journalists killed in 2017, along with threats and constant attacks on those who seek to freely inform the public, the country has become the most dangerous in the world in which to practice journalism, aside from countries that are actively at war.

In Colombia attacks on the press have also increased. One of those attacks took place recently when Wilson Reyes, mayor of a municipality in northern Colombia, threatened a journalist and later shot at but failed to hit him.

In a more hopeful story, a strong civil society campaign, driven primarily by the Karisma Foundation, achieved the acquittal of biologist Diego Gómez on copyright violation charges. The case began in 2014 and would have set a harmful precedent for the country.

Venezuela maintained its stance of harassment of the free press by the government of Nicolás Maduro. In a year plagued by demonstrations against the government's political decisions, a number of attacks on the media also took place. A report revealed that 56 media outlets were closed in 2017 (47 radio stations, three television stations and six print media outlets). The role of the state as a guarantor of human rights was blurred as regulations were applied based on convenience, characterised by opaque, discretionary and arbitrary processes, and translating into diminished spaces for freedom.

In Peru, it was reported that 63% of advertising investments are concentrated with just five multimedia groups. In addition, an incident took place where the congressional chief communications officer barred a photojournalist from accessing the Parliament until July 2018.

In Canada, there is a high level of concern over the closure of more than 40 media outlets after a deal was struck between Postmedia and Torstar.

In Ecuador, the government has continued carrying out its policy of seizing media outlets in order to later incorporate them into the state media conglomerate. In addition, the visit by a United Nations independent expert, whose arrival did not meet the necessary requirements, while other requests for visits put forward by civil society members were not granted, resulted in a high level of concern among organisations.

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Tras el vil asesinato de un equipo periodistico, organizaciones exigen condiciones para la entrega de los cuerpos… https://t.co/ZJyRuVLnff