Honduras lawmakers seeking to curb online speech

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras: A young woman uses her cellphone, next to graffiti that reads “JOH Out” – a reference to President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH). — AFP

TEGUCIGALPA: Lawmakers in Honduras are debating a bill that wants to fine administrators of social media networks for online comments deemed offensive or promoting “hate campaigns.” The measure was introduced by a member of the ruling National Party as the country is wracked by protests claiming President Juan Orlando Hernandez won a new mandate through a rigged November election.

Much of the vitriol against Hernandez and the National Party is being expressed in social media. The opposition and other groups are also using online forums to organize the anti-government protests. The bill calls for fines of up to $43,000 against those running websites or social networks on which text encouraging “hate and discrimination” are posted. Civil society groups say the move is an attempt to curb free speech and quash legitimate protests. The Association of Communication Media in Honduras said the bill undermines basic rights and called on the country’s congress to suspend the debate.

The national journalists’ association warned the bill would pave the way for “manipulation” by certain interests and strike a blow to citizens’ rights to express themselves freely. Hernandez, a conservative who has the backing of the United States, was declared the victor of the November 26 election despite observers from the Organization of American States listing irregularities in the polling. The leftwing opposition asserts that Hernandez stole the election from its candidate, Salvador Nasralla, and was not legitimately re-elected. It is persisting with protests that have been met by police action. – AFP

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