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Jesuits campaigning for Human rights in Honduras

  • 2 March 2018

Photo journalist Sean Hawkey has just returned from Honduras where he interviewed Jesuit human rights campaigner and Director of Radio Progreso, Fr Ismael Moreno SJ known as Padre Melo.

Read more about how Jesuits from around the world have been standing in solidarity with Honduras here.

Following recent elections in Honduras Padre Melo, who has received repeated hostile messages through social media, described what it is like to express opposition to the Honduran government through the media.

“Media in Honduras is intimately linked to the groups who have power. Power in Honduras is gained through the ability to control the media. The national media in the country is associated with five powerful groups Grupo FICOHSA, Grupo Atlántida, Grupo Dinant, Grupo Terra and Grupo Karim’s.

The media normally follow a script reflecting the interests of these powerful groups who have more power than any government.  These five groups were behind the coup of 2009 [which ousted Manuel Zelaya Rosales and brought to power the current president Juan Orlando Hernandez] and they were behind the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez in late 2017.

For the media who align with defenders of human rights, the opposition, that are outside of the control of the government and the five power groups, they are dealt with by a rigid five-step process.

The first step is to ignore us. For those of us who have a different point of view, or who question the government, we’ll never be invited to a TV station to speak, they’ll never run a story on who we are and what we do.

Secondly, when we can’t be ignored, they will twist information on what we do in order to stigmatize and discredit us. They won’t talk about what we do or say, instead they will call us rebels, revolutionaries, that we try to stop development, or that we are linked to organised crime.

Their third step is to try to co-opt or bribe us. It can be with money, but it might be with recognition, invitations to participate in bodies or events that deal with human rights, to five-star hotels.

When that doesn’t work then they try to criminalise us, which is the fourth step. That’s why the Penal Code has been reformed, to enable accusations of terrorism, or treason.

The fifth step is assassination.

At Radio Progress we have been ignored. They’ve tried to buy us off. Last year they offered me the government prize for human rights. I would have been part of their game if I’d accepted it. They’ve tried to stigmatise us by producing leaflets linking us to organised crime. Attempts have been made to criminalise us. Now we are trying to avoid the last step.

Everything I live and say and do, comes from my faith in God. Here people suffer because they don’t have anything to eat; their human rights are abused; there’s no freedom of expression; employment is a matter of luxury, and not a basic right for young people; the rights of women and children are abused; and there is corruption with impunity.

It is hard in these circumstances to give glory to God.

What moves me is a profound faith that the Lord wants us to bring good news, particularly to those who suffer the consequences of a world organised with its back to God, a world in sin. That is what motivates me. I try to live this faith in a public way, In this world there is a need for the presence of God for us all to live in joy.

I believe in the power that produces change for the common good. Here in Honduras I feel, from my faith, that I am obliged to confront the malignant power of Juan Orlando Hernandez. I am not moved by hatred but by love.”

Sean also caught up with Fr Jean Denis Saint Felix SJ who is based in Washington and was in Honduras as part of a visiting delegation of faith groups to show solidarity with Padre Melo and colleagues.

“Jesuits, wherever we are, we concerned about justice. We want to promote faith, but a faith that is built on justice. That is why I am here, to show solidarity with the people of Honduras and with the persecuted people of faith in the country. What we have seen on this visit is that the people are afraid, they have been victims of a lot of repression by the armed forces and the Military Police.

There aren’t many points of view represented in the press in Honduras. Radio Progreso, the Jesuit radio, provides a news service, and has become a symbol of the struggle for democracy. The radio is a commitment to stand alongside the Honduran people, for their rights to be respected.”

This article first appeared on Jesuit in Britain.