The Government of Honduras has how come under scrutiny for a proposed law that will bar journalists and social activists from reporting on the ongoing human rights violations and other atrocities in the country.
Activists say the law, which was introduced in February, shortly after Juan Orlando Hernandez was re-elected as president of Honduras in a dubious election process filled with irregularities will impact freedom of speech online.
"Social media provided the main forum for opposition views before the election and a key mechanism for the protest movement afterward," Edy Tábora, director of the Honduran Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre), told the Vice News.
"Now the government wants to create an organ of censorship that will bring this space under its control," he added.
While the new law does not directly target the social media platforms, activists say: "In its current state, it requires any service or website that includes user-generated content to process complaints and remove “hate speech” or discriminatory content within 24 hours."
"Should online intermediaries fail to do so, their services could be fined or blocked. The latest draft of the bill also creates a national cybersecurity committee to receive reports and relay them to websites and companies, and to develop policy strategies on issues ranging from cybercrime to hate speech and fake news," Javier Pallero, Digital Rights activist focusing on the Latin American region explained, according to Access Now.
Tábora echoed Pallero's concerns: “The commission would give a media outlet 24 hours to take down a post, for example, a tweet sharing one of its stories,” and they would face "a $50,000 fine if they refuse, what will the site do? They will take it down."
According to Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, COFADEH, so far, apart from 38 people killed, human rights groups have documented 76 cases of torture along with 400 serious injuries. The group also reported on five assassinations of protest leaders "with paramilitary characteristics," that are intended to "generate terror among the political opposition."
According to a report published by Vice News at least 26 political prisoners remain in jail under "huge violations of the rule of law and due process in nearly all cases."
On March 25, a reporter with the digital news site Mega Red Nacional was punched, electrocuted, and forced to delete his material during a demonstration in the northern city of Choloma; the Vice News report said.
A month before, in February, Cesar Silva, a presenter with the opposition-aligned UNE TV, narrowly escaped a knife attack live on air.
"I almost found myself narrating my own death," Silva said adding: "He called me a gangster and a defender of delinquency, which is exactly what the government says about us.... It shows how much they really [don't] care about hate speech."
In a report released in March, the EU’s electoral monitoring mission also reported a "significant imbalance" favoring Juan Orlando Hernandez, over the main opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla. The report indicated that the state media also played a role in spreading the bias, with Hernandez benefitting from 64 percent of paid electoral propaganda, while Nasralla obtained just 15 percent, the commission found.
Amid stifled freedom of expression and media censorship in the country, social media has played an important role in disseminating the unfolding of events in the Central American country with many videos, photos and accounts of government's atrocities, including of the military firing at moreover, killing protesters were recorded and uploaded to platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
A December petition published in Honduran journalist Dina Meza's Pasos de Animal Grande, outlining Hernandez's human rights violations and that he should be tried at the International Criminal Court was seen at least 70,000 times.
"Working in digital media frees me from the censorship that’s everywhere here," Dina Meza, who has worked extensively in the field, said according to Vice News. "This made a big difference during the elections when we saw a surge in visitor numbers. Lots of new people came to us through Facebook and Twitter."
The law which would severely hamper the media's work includes Article 335-B, under which journalists can be sentenced to eight years in prison for "defending, justifying, or glorifying" terrorism.
The proposed law has been heavily criticized by international human rights organizations, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which has warned the bill could be used to "sanction the work of human rights defenders."