By María Aguilar
Investigative reporter Thirzia Galeas has been locked up since Sunday, May 24 in the Stewart detention center in Atlanta, Ga., United States, better known by migrants as the «cage of fear». She fled Honduras in search of political asylum, according to her own complaint, after being persecuted and assaulted by intelligence agents of the governments of Juan Orlando Hernández and Porfirio Lobo
Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Thirzia Galeas, a Honduran journalist, was conducting a regional investigative piece on the murders of environmentalists before fleeing Honduras to the United States and requesting asylum on May 24, 2021.
This investigative piece will be published in the coming hours by Reporteros de Investigación and other media outlets in Honduras and abroad.
According to Fabricio Galeas, his 35-year-old sister fled Honduras more than a week ago. Thirzia, who works for C-Libre and the digital newspaper Conexihon.hn, is also a researcher on the freedom of expression, access to public information, and the murders of journalists and communicators, especially in rural areas, among other topics.
The Honduran journalist received her first threat during the government of former president Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014). Something similar happened to her during the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-present). While covering protests, tear gas caused her health problems.
Since then, she has had to take medication for different health damages due to the excessive use of force employed by Honduran authorities. In 2011, Thirzia, along with other journalists, denounced President Lobo for abuse of authority and cruel and degrading treatment during a protest on December 13 of that year.
C-Libre published on its website that, in December 2020, a man identified as Lester Obando, who allegedly presented himself as a prosecutor from the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP), threatened to kill her during a closed event, assuring her that her head had a price «for having a lot of information about the organization (C-Libre)».
In November 2020, Galeas along with other colleagues delivered aid to journalists affected by the Eta and Iota storms.
While distributing humanitarian aid, a vehicle driven by Honduran government agents followed the journalist and her colleagues.
Thirzia is an IWMF intern and has reported to C-Libre and the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH).
In the «cage of fear» you can die of COVID, and no one cares.
Preys of fear. This is how Thirzia Galeas and hundreds of migrants imprisoned at the Stewart Center feel. They are afraid of the treatment they receive, of the horrible food they are served, of loneliness, of catching COVID-19 and of dying thousands of miles away from their homes.
The Stewart Center is notorious for a lot of abuse and neglect, but with the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse, according to a report released in early May by the organization El Refugio.
The report, «Cage of Fear: Medical Abuse and Neglect at Stewart Detention Center,» is based on allegations made by detainees, who describe how authorities have used COVID-19 to worsen the medical situation and perpetrate more abuses against migrant detainees.
In the case of Thirzia Galeas, during the week she has been detained in the United States, she has not been given the medicines she needs to control her hypertension and other illnesses she suffers from. Due to this medical negligence of the center, the Honduran woman’s health condition has worsened.
Furthermore, Galeas also fears for her life because the prison authorities keep both COVID-19 infected and non-contagious people locked up in the same space. They have not cared that Galeas is an at-risk patient who could become seriously ill if she were to catch the coronavirus.
Detainees with serious illnesses like Galeas «have to wait weeks before receiving care,» according to activist and director of El Refugio, Amilcar Valencia. The authorities used the pandemic to create «an even more traumatizing and terrifying situation» for the migrants held at the center, Valencia added.
The director of El Refugio denounced cases similar to Galeas’, such as those of diabetic migrants who have been on the verge of death due to medical negligence and of detainees held in solitary confinement for long periods of time because they suffer from COVID or are suspected of suffering from it.
Honduras, one of the worst countries to practice journalism
The global organization Reporters Without Borders once again placed Honduras in its report «World Press Freedom Index 2018» as one of the worst countries to practice journalism.
The study, which analyzes the conditions of freedom of expression, places Honduras in 141st place out of 180 countries, dropping one point from last year when it was 140th.
C-Libre issued a statement on May 25, Journalist’s Day in Honduras, where it points out that more than 800 communication workers were victims of suspensions and dismissals from their jobs, according to information gathered from March 2020 to April 2021.
At least 500 journalists had their salaries reduced, and it shows a total of 127 direct aggressions against journalists, including the murder of four journalists in the midst of a state of emergency, forming part of the contextual violence by the coronavirus against journalists in the country.
Publicly, more than 180 journalists have made official their infection by COVID-19 through their social networks.
In addition, during the workshops with Alert and Protection Networks for Journalists and Social Communicators (Rapcos in Spanish), carried out by C-Libre in March and April 2021, as well as in solidarity days, delivering food to journalists affected by tropical storms Eta and Iota in November and December 2020, it was known that in the departments of Cortés, Choluteca, Valle, El Paraíso, Copán, Lempira and Olancho, the numbers exceed one thousand journalists infected by COVID-19.
In this context, an official total of 23 journalists have died from COVID-19 in Honduras. Of these, 95% have died in public hospitals, which means that they did not enjoy the benefits of social security.
Likewise, more than 50% of deceased journalists and 85% of those infected are not affiliated to the Journalists’ Association of Honduras, where a university degree and the payment of a monthly fee must be accredited as part of the requirements to be part of this union structure.
Journalists fired, attacked and sick with COVID (March 2020-April 2021).