Dina Meza is a celebrated independent journalist, committed to defending freedom of expression and information. Her work focuses on supporting women, indigenous populations, youth groups, people of the LGBTI community and social communicators. She is the current President of PEN Honduras, an organisation that supports journalists at risk, as well as the founder and editor of the online newspaper ‘Pasos de Animal Grande’, which provides information and legal support to at-risk professionals, students and journalists. Her work has received wide international recognition and praise. In 2007, she received the special Amnesty International UK prize for journalists at risk, and in 2014 the Oxfam Novib / PEN International Freedom of Expression prize. Such is her impact that in April 2018, Fortune magazine selected her as one of the world's 50 greatest leaders of 2018, highlighting her key role in bringing international attention to the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres, as well as the state violence surrounding Honduras' volatile 2017 elections.
On 30 January 2018, Dina visited London on a speaker tour to voice concerns over the ongoing human rights violations in her home country.
On the human rights situation in Honduras:
Since the coup d’état in 2009, democracy in Honduras has been under attack. Dina Meza underscores that 12 prominent families together control over 80% of the country’s wealth, and that these have sought to construct a state that serves their immediate interests. Moreover, many political actors underpinning or directly serving in the current regime were those involved in the fierce military repression that ravaged Honduras throughout the 1980s, supported in part by the U.S. administration under Ronald Reagan. Officials guilty of terror have never been held accountable for their crimes and continue to function in government, police and other public capacities. Dina Meza emphasises that all branches of the state are effectively coopted and controlled by the country’s authoritarian president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who continues to constrict channels of justice. Critics claim that he has successfully handpicked judges, police commissioners and political representatives to assume ever greater control of political and judicial processes within the country.
Dina Meza fears that the worst is yet to come, expecting human rights abuses to rise after the recent mass protests that erupted in response to alleged electoral fraud during the Honduras general elections in December 2017. Despite international observers such as the European Union monitoring the election results, no formal accusations of fraud have yet been made by the international community. This has reduced international pressure on the country, paving the way for further repression without the fear of an international backlash. A series of anti-terror laws passed in 2017 have given the government the ability to imprison people for up to 50 years if they are deemed to be affiliated to a criminal organisation or justifying ‘terror’ through the media. Opposition protesters fear these laws are specifically created as a legal tool to clamp down on dissenting journalists and activists.
On speaking out against repression:
Dina Meza began her work as a journalist in 1992, after her bother was abducted and tortured by the military. “That’s what motivated me to get involved in human rights. I vowed that I would never allow a family to suffer alone.” Ever since, she has been exposing violence and criticising the state apparatus through her publications. Her high profile in civil society has placed her in the government’s crosshairs, with harsh censorship forcing her to constantly adapt her journalistic work. She created her website, Pasos de Animal Grande (‘Steps of a Big Animal’) in 2014. It receives up to 30,000 visits per month, disseminating information and messages of solidarity with activists, journalists and minority groups around the country. “There is a saying in Honduras. When you say you can feel the steps of a big animal, it means you can feel there’s going to be radical change.”
Dina has been involved in many high-profile campaigns and actions. Following anti-government protests in 2015, she was involved, together with other human rights organisations, in filing a complaint to the Honduran Supreme Court against the government’s violation of constitutional rights. She also reports regularly on the ongoing agrarian conflict in Bajo Aguán. Through PEN Honduras, she has been heavily involved in supporting student movements at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, frequently accompanying them on protests. She has also been actively criticising the charges levelled against Héctor Orlando Martínez Motiño and Elisabeth Zuñiga, who were sued after reporting 34 cases of human rights violations against university staff. Dina states that it is becoming ever more difficult to provide legal assistance to activists with the limited resources of her organisation. She calls on organisations around the world to help assist her work.
On the threats she faces in her work to uphold human rights:
In Dina’s efforts to speak out, she is accustomed to receiving threats against her and her family. Cars regularly follow her during her daily activities, and armed men frequently come to her house. Constant intimidation resulted in her having to spend 5 months in exile in 2013.
Dina stresses that no progress has been made in the investigations into the attacks against her, and that despite repeatedly requesting her official police records, to date she has not had access to them. She also points out that the Hernández administration’s most recent tactic has been to make HRDs and journalists pay for their own police protection. A large amount of Dina’s protection comes from PBI’s field teams who accompany her during much of her work.
Despite the great risks for her personal safety that her job entails, Dina is not intending to scale down her critical efforts to uphold justice and human rights in Honduras. “We can’t have this evil continuing… I have a commitment to my brother, who was tortured and imprisoned, and also to my children. I owe it to them not to pass on the same Honduras that I grew up in.”
On the support of PBI:
In these threating work conditions, Dina is keen to emphasise the importance of the support the she receives from PBI. “I have received many threats because of my work and my journey has been greatly facilitated by PBI's work, as no protection is guaranteed from the state”, Dina says. “Human rights defenders in Honduras have our hope in PBI; it is you who are accompanying us. You come with me to do journalistic investigations, when I accompany other people who are at risk, in hearings in courts of justice, in advocacy meetings before authorities or international missions, there is the presence of PBI, which for me has been fundamental since 2014.”
Besides providing physical accompaniment in situations of risk, PBI is also active in monitoring and reporting on security incidents against Dina and other Human Rights Defenders, alterting the diplomatic corps and national governments about serious attacks. This international visibility and support is fundamental to PBI's dissuasion, ensuring the security of PBI field teams and the defenders they accompany.
As an example of the impact of PBI’s work, Dina recounts an assassination attempt against her in April last year, when a hitman followed her onto a bus. The man said that there were more of them in the vehicle following the bus. They had been given orders to kill Dina, and such orders cannot be revoked, the man told her. Fearing for her life, Dina got off the bus and sought refuge in a pharmacy, from which she could spot the men waiting for her outside. Dina then decided to call PBI. Members of the team came and could finally escort her to a safe place.
“I can do my work only thanks to the support of PBI. If it wasn’t for the accompaniment I get, it would be much more difficult to do my job.”