Report: Honduran leaders are arresting, abusing protesters

Amnesty International says Honduran interim authorities conducted mass arrests and beatings of those who support ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya take part in a rally as they stand in front of the police outside the Supreme Court of Justice in Tegucigalpa, on Tuesday.
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Amnesty International released a report today urging a solution to the political standoff in Honduras, warning that authorities there have resorted to mass arrests and beatings of those who support ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

"Mass arbitrary arrests and ill treatment of protesters are a serious and growing concern in Honduras today," said Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, in the report.

"Detention and ill treatment of protesters are being employed as a form of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing," Ms. Major said.

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President Zelaya was arrested by the military June 28 and deposed, after going forward with plans to consider altering the Constitution, a move his critics feared was aimed at removing term limits for presidents. That same day, a new government led by Interim President Roberto Micheletti was sworn in. In the seven weeks since, Zelaya supporters, who include union workers, teachers, house wives, and students, have taken to the streets to demand his return.

Negotiations stalled

Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, had been negotiating a solution but it has so far failed. His plan, backed by the international community, includes the reinstatement of Zelaya, who says he was not seeking reelection, to carry out his term as president. The Micheletti government maintains that Zelaya's removal from office was constitutional and refuses to allow his return as president. Diplomatic missions to revive negotiations have been stalled.

Amnesty International has said that increasing human rights violations underscore the need for a diplomatic solution. The testimony and photos released in their report were gathered by a delegation that interviewed those detained after a demonstration in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on July 30, revealing beatings with batons and stones.

"The police were throwing stones; they cornered us, threw us on the floor, on our stomachs and beat us," said one student in witness testimony published in the report. "They took our cameras from us, and beat us if we lifted our heads and even when we were getting into the police wagons."

Interim government supporters dismiss report

Supporters of the interim government have dismissed the report. "It is completely exaggerated," says Juan Ramon Martinez, a political analyst in Tegucigalpa, in a phone interview. He says that injuries have occurred when protesters have headed to the streets unauthorized and police have been sent in to break up demonstrations. But he says there is nothing systematic about abuse taking place.

"Those in favor of Manuel Zelaya are the ones provoking violence," Mr. Martinez says, "by painting walls with words against the president of our country [Micheletti] and breaking glass and disrupting traffic."

Censoring the media?

Human rights allegations have also been lobbed at the interim government for media rights infringements. Groups such as Reporters Without Borders have denounced censorship and violence against media outlets critical of the interim government.

"The de facto government has again illustrated its concept of press freedom by pitting soldiers and police against news media that are critical of the coup," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on Monday. "The attacks on community and education media are yet another sign of the deterioration in the general press freedom situation since 28 June."

Vanesa Moya, a radio journalist who was marching against the interim government during a protest last month, says that the country is only receiving one-side of the story. "Only those supporting the coup are getting their stories heard," she says.

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