Wendy Funes: Despite the pain that violence has left in Honduras it is wonderful to see a world with so much solidarity


2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

“Despite my fears and the pain that violence has left in my country, it has been wonderful to see that it has been worthwhile to dream in a world with so much solidarity,” Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, told Index on Censorship.

Freedom of expression has suffered a steep decline in Honduras, a country where 70 journalists have been killed over the last nine years, with Gabriel Hernández’s murder on 17 March marking the first of 2019. Wendy Funes, an investigative reporter who runs her own online news website, Reporteros de Investigacion, is one of the few remaining journalists in the country that continues reporting and investigating issues despite the immense pressure to remain silent.

As a woman journalist in Honduras, a country in which gender-based violence is a serious issue, as is violence against journalists, Funes finds it important to attend events for women in leadership, such as the one she attended in Mexico City with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

“It helped me to realise that I am not alone in the continent and to know that there are other places with women who are specialised and do methodical and rigorous work,” said Funes.

Although she has faced a great deal of adversity as a woman journalist, Funes considers herself lucky having been given the opportunity to study and have a career in journalism, when seven out of every ten Hondurans live in poverty, with more than a million children without access to school and a small percentage of people who finish high school.

2019 is proving to be a busy year for Funes as she undertakes a new project, Sembrando el Periodismo de Investigacion en Honduras, with the help of a grant from National Endowment for Democracy. The project consists of four major investigations, two of which Funes and her team are currently working on.

The first is an investigation into the Trans 450, a transmetro that was promised to Hondurans and cost them $9 million, but has not been put into operation yet. The second investigation examines the impunity on aggressions against freedom of expression.

“The NED project is our first significant project and the support and respect they have shown for our work is really important to us,” said Funes.

The biggest project Funes has planned for the future, however, is the building of a Centre for Investigative Journalism that will be the first centre of its kind in Honduras.

“We want the office to become a training space for press and media professionals, advocates, professionals from universities, and academics who wish to learn,” said Funes.

In preparation for building the centre, Funes and her team are working with Factum magazine of El Salvador to train journalists and students. They will hold the first workshop in April of this year and the hope is that they will develop a network of journalists that will then serve as the foundation for the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

“For now, our priority is to strengthen our office and our business model, to nurture alliances and strengthen the network that will one day become the centre we are talking about,” said Funes.

Being an Index fellow has opened up many new opportunities for Funes, but has also renewed her own sense of confidence in herself as a woman and as a journalist.

“Index appeared in my life as a gift of providence and helped me at a very fundamental moment because the award coincided with the year I made the decision found my own newspaper,” said Funes. “They showcased me and my work and many more people followed in encouraging and supporting me.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1554114253076-1aebf9f6-f8dd-7″ taxonomies=”10735″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Fellowship Update: An important element of Index’s work

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Index Awards Fellowship has become an important element of Index on Censorship’s work – allowing us to help those on the frontlines of defending free speech around the world. Each fellow receives a structured programme of assistance including capacity building, mentoring and networking. Over the course of a year, we also help them accomplish a key goal that will significantly enhance the impact or sustainability of their work.

The 2018 Fellows are continuing to thrive:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”103306″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Arts fellow the Museum of Dissidence, led by artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and art curator Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, have put themselves on the line in the fight against Decree 349, a vague law intended to severely limit artistic freedom in Cuba. In November, the two were arrested for peacefully protesting the law. Index campaigned for their release at a solidarity protest at Tate Britain.

Having missed our Freedom of Expression Awards ceremony in April 2018, we were thrilled to present Nuñez Leyva and Otero Alcántara with their award in October at Metal Culture Southend, an arts centre where they were taking part in a two-week residency.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99812″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Campaigning fellows the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms continue to highlight human rights abuses and provide support for those facing repression. The group has expanded its reach by opening two new offices around the country and has benefited from technology training provided by Index. Amal Fathy, wife of ECRF executive director Mohamed Lotfy, was released from prison in late December after eight months in detention for her online criticism of sexual harassment in Egypt, but a two-year prison sentence was upheld against the activist, raising fears she could again end up behind bars. Index continues to campaign for Amal at international level.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99888″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Digital Activism fellow Habari RDC, a collective of more than 100 young Congolese bloggers and web activists, have been busily covering December’s tense election in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its fallout. Guy Muyembe, president of Habari RDC, said before the elections: “The only thing that is certain about the election is the uncertainty that comes with it.” The continuing tensions threaten to destabilise the country, insecurity and violence. Index has arranged training for Habari RDC with Protection International which will take place early this year.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99885″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Journalism fellow Wendy Funes continues to cover corruption and human rights violations in Honduras, a country where violence has become “normalised”. With the help of  Index, Wendy is in the process of securing an office for her newspaper which will create a safe space for her team to do their work. She also plans to open the space to other journalists and offer training to students. Wendy has been selected as a judge for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and has been able to attain funding which will cover some of her investigations for 2019.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99904″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1547745843103-843df51b-4519-5″ taxonomies=”8935″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Wendy Funes: Fear is a weapon used against the vulnerable in Honduras


2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas)

2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas)

“Violence is a way of keeping society under control because a lot of what people do or don’t do is a reaction to fear,” Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, tells Index on Censorship. “It becomes an indirect method of control, not just over society, but journalism as well.”

Funes worries this kind of violence has become “normalised” in Honduras and says the shooting and wounding of journalist Geovanny Sierra — who has survived numerous attempts on his life — by military police while covering protests of electoral fraud in late November is just the latest example. The Honduran authorities issued a statement saying that law enforcement was attacked first, which is why they started shooting. “With this they have justified the crime,” Funes says, adding that nothing is being done about the attacks on journalists in the country: “The most terrible thing is the impunity that exists because if something like this happened in another country it would a scandal, but here it is already forgotten.”

Funes is no stranger to covering either corruption or protest and has had her own brushes with heavy-handed state forces, although she says for the most part she has been lucky. “I’ve had training opportunities in self-protection and security,” she says. “I am also very cautious — I try to plan my routes and if I go inter dangerous areas, I try to have a safety protocol, to have alliances with civil society groups, so if something happens to me I can let them know.”

Recently, Funes’ investigative website Reporteros de Investigacion has been focusing on issues such as human trafficking, violence against student protesters, femicide and the high-level cocaine trafficking case involving Juan Antonio Hernández, brother of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández. The website has also been covering the caravan of people fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in the country. “They are facing a very cruel situation,” Funes says.

Honduran migrant Daniel Portillo

Honduran migrant Daniel Portillo

Although Reporteros de Investigacion doesn’t have the resources to cross the border, it has been working closely with some of those who have fled, such as 25-year-old Daniel Portillo, who left Honduras in search of the “American dream”. Portillo is now in Mexico. “He has found someone who works with migrants and helps migrants,” Funes, who first met him when she was covering protests in San Pedro Sula, a city in the northwest of Honduras, said. “He is a young person with a lot of leadership qualities, a lot of desire to advocate for other young people.”

While in Honduras Portillo organised sports tournaments in an area controlled by the criminal gang MS-13. “He resisted joining the gang,” Funes says. “He was always trying to negotiate with them so that he could help other young people so they wouldn’t get into drugs or alcohol.”

Writing in Reporteros de Investigacion, Portillo explains the difficulty of explaining to his young daughter that he left so she could have a better future: “If God allows it, we will see each other again or else, I am writing this letter to you in case unfortunately they killed me on the way and buried me; my heart is that of a warrior and I will continue forward, whatever happens, my mother suffers for my departure.”

“He told me that he has seen many people carved up since he was a child,” Funes tells Index. “Violence weighed on his psyche and made him very vulnerable young person. He told me that he looked for employment in Honduras, and when he could not find he decided to migrate with the caravan.”

It is such vulnerability that makes poor Hondurans so susceptible to human trafficking. “It’s like Russian roulette,” Funes says. “I have come to realise that there are many Hondurans who have an eagerness to migrate to the USA, but have ended up staying in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize and have become victims of sexual exploitation, domestic service and forced matrimonies as they flee from gangs and narco-politics. Some of the people who have left come back mutilated because they lose limbs on the trains.”

For those that do make it to the USA, they face discrimination, but at least they have the opportunity for better salaries, with which they can send money to their families struggling back home, Funes says. These remittances play a key role in sustaining the Honduran economy. In May 2018 Hondurans abroad sent back an all-time high of $456.2 million in a single month.

While Funes would like to see more Hondurans stay at home, not only to avoid the very real risks that come with being a migrant, but also to fight for real change, she is all too aware of why people choose instead to leave. “You have to work five times harder than a corrupt individual to be able to sustain yourself and get ahead in Honduras. This economic model displaces the most vulnerable individuals.”

Much of what Funes and her team do over the next year will be geared towards her dream of founding a centre of investigative journalism, including training journalists and students with the help of Factum magazine in El Salvador. “This will bring together many different journalists who want to transform Honduras with investigative journalism,” Funes says.

With a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, Funes and her team will also work on a project called Sembrando el Periodismo de Investigación en Honduras (Sowing Investigative Journalism In Honduras), which will involve four major investigations over the course of 2019.

“Many of the things that I dreamt of happening one day, in an idealistic way, have become reality, all thanks to Index,” Funes adds. “Solidarity, love and friendship are really the things that can move this world, and that is what Index is made of with all of the support they have extended to me.”

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Wendy Funes defies pressures to silence Honduran journalists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”99928″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]“There have been deaths in the country, there are members of the military involved in extrajudicial executions, there is a culture of murdering people.” This is what Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, tells Index about the dangers of reporting critically of Honduras’ authorities.

Such risks don’t deter Funes, whose online news outlet, Reporteros de Investigacion, reported on 8 June 2018 that members of a Honduran military unit allegedly engaged in inappropriate behaviour towards young female students. The unit was conducting seminars in schools on the dangers of drugs and collecting the personal information of pupils without parental consent. In at least one case, a member of the unit was texting sexually harassing messages to who he thought was a pupil, but was actually the pupil’s mother.

Two days later, a fake article claiming that the military programme was pushing gangs out of schools was being shared on WhatsApp groups. The piece used the Reportero de Investigacion logo.

“I didn’t think this type of story would receive such a response — which is one of the mildest that has ever happened to me — because I know the capacity in which the military operates,” Funes says. “The murder of journalists is a big problem — murdered women have been found in the cars of military officials and staff — and impunity only makes these killings easier to carry out.”

Funes says journalists with a high profile and who are seen to be an “inconvenience” are most at risk, especially “young people who adhere to certain stereotypes of rebelliousness”. Reporteros de Investigacion draws a large readership in what is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.

Soon after the exposé on the military, a failed cyber attack was made on the publication’s website. “They weren’t able to compromise our digital security,” Funes says. She reported the attack to the Mecanismos de Protección Ciudadana (Citizen Protection Mechanisms), a government body tasked with protecting fundamental rights, including protection for journalists and human rights defenders. “Progress has been very slow and it hasn’t received very much attention,” she says. “The state has begun an investigation and has named a prosecutor, Luani Alvarado, but she is one of the prosecutors that I have been denouncing because she has repeatedly refused to grant me information.”

Funes was offered a police escort, but being aware of abuses by the police and military — not least those cases exposed in her own publication — she refused.

Such a pressurised media environment exacerbates the problem of self-censorship among Honduras’ journalists. Funes puts the blame on fear. “I lived it when I was working for the monopoly media corporations; I self-censored, as did a lot of my colleagues, in order to be able to keep working in these companies,” she says, explaining that the reasons differ from region to region. “Journalists in the Atlantic coast self-censor for the fear of organised crime, and in other places they self-censor when there are protests, because of the risk or danger this might put them in.”

The solution, she says, has very little to do with the actions of journalists and a lot to do with changing the environment in which they work. “When there is democratisation, when the owners of the media respect the thoughts and views of the journalist and when journalists come out of journalism school better prepared for these situations, then we will defeat self-censorship,” she says. “If the structure does not change, we can not talk about concrete things.”

Funes wants to put an end to censorship overall, which she says has let her country down so many times. Working with her in this aim, Index helped her secure the funding to provide legal support for Reporteros de Investigacion. “We needed a legal society that is able to accept funds and other means of sustainability, which cost money, and that’s where Index came in, helping us raise the seed capital,” she says. The publication is now partnered with Investigaciones y Comunicaciones (Indica) and can engage in  commercial activities.

“It has been an emotional moment,” Funes says. “Our plan is to grow at a slow but firm pace, and our dream to found the first centre for investigative journalism in Honduras.” The next step is to register with the chamber of commerce in Tegucigalpa.

The publication relies on the work of volunteers and so being financially self-sustainable is a key aim. “Once we can achieve that this, more doors will open — in addition to the ones Index has already opened for us,” Funes says.

Index has also helped Funes develop a strategic plan and other tools for institutional development. Funes and her team are currently working on at least eight investigations, including challenging Honduras’ white-collar crime culture, which has “caused so many problems for the most vulnerable in society”.

Working to sustain both herself and her newspaper takes much physical and emotional effort, which can be very difficult as her days are always full. In addition to her reporting, Funes is also working towards a master’s degree in criminology and has enrolled in an investigative journalism course. “Contact with Index has helped me to be self-critical and improve every day,” Funes says. “My country deserves it, which is why I educate myself. And I hope all these sacrifices have a reward.”

“Given the criminal culture that exists in Honduras, we have been made invisible and have been ignored, but the recognition from Index and international support networks has been a motivator and helped us rediscover the value of doing journalism that is ethical, honest and rigorous.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

Awards Fellowship

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Index works with the winners of the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship to help them achieve goals through a 12-month programme of capacity building, coaching and strategic support.

Through the fellowships, Index seeks to maximise the impact and sustainability of voices at the forefront of pushing back censorship worldwide.

Learn more about the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536910697061-1f209759-d0f6-6″ taxonomies=”28014, 9128, 10735″][/vc_column][/vc_row]