And as with Becket, there are officials of the Micheletti regime ready to take up the challenge.
An article in the pro-coup El Heraldo on August 14 quotes the regime's appointee usurping the functions of the Minister of Gobernación and Justicia, Oscar Matute, threatening Father Andrés Tamaya of Olancho.
Tamayo is a parish priest, ecologist and activist against deforestation in eastern Honduras (a cause that has claimed the lives of multiple Hondurans assassinated since the late 1990s, among them Carlos Escaleras, Carlos Flores, Janeth Kawas, and Carlos Luna, and that has made Father Tamayo himself an object of death threats), whose work was recognized in 2005 by a Goldman Prize.
Despite his many years of residence in and work for Honduras, Matute rather ham-handedly implies that Father Tamayo's salvadoran birthplace makes him somehow less truly Honduran, bringing it up in an otherwise mystifying hypothetical comment that leads the Heraldo article:
If you as a honduran arrived in El Salvador to incite the people to not vote, they would immediately put you in jail or throw you out ['de patitas en la calle'].Now, some might say I am being overly sensitive here. But there is a long-term current of anti-salvadoran sentiment in Honduras that is open to priming, like the anti-nicaraguan sentiment already being exploited by the de facto regime. While the truth is that Honduras' population is intimately mixed with the populations of its neighbors, especially Nicaragua and El Salvador, this troubling and volatile chauvinism is already part of regime rhetoric.
Honduras' constitutional Article 24 actually establishes relatively generous means to become a naturalized citizen, so that any Central American who lives one year in the country can declare Honduran citizenship. Father Tamayo has lived and worked in Honduras since 1983. The writer of the article feels the need to insert in its text the fact that Tamayo is "of salvadoran origin, naturalized honduran", which both constitutionally and pragmatically is of no relevance. Bringing up El Salvador in this context is clearly meant to imply he is not really Honduran.
The article argues that Tamayo
could lose his Honduran citizenship if it is confirmed that he has made calls against the electoral process that is to be carried out this November 29.Father Tamayo has been widely quoted as calling for a boycott:
If the coup government (of Roberto Micheletti) does not accept restoration [of President Zelaya], there will be no elections. We will boycott the elections.[AFP has the same story in English with a slightly different version of the quote.]
El Heraldo quotes Matute responding in a radio broadcast:
If [Tamayo] has expressed those concepts publicly, that would expose him to the sanctions established by the laws.So, is there a legal basis to Matute's threat? Let's start with the Constitution. Article 29 says that naturalized citizenship can be lost by accepting citizenship in another country, or by the revocation of a letter of naturalization (which is a means by which citizenship can be bestowed on people who have not otherwise qualified for it by residency).
Neither option fits here. Article 40, point 3, does define as a "duty" of citizens to exercise the right to vote. And Article 42, point 4 says that citizenship rights can be lost, following a judicial proceeding,
Por coartar la libertad de sufragio, adulterar documentos electorales o emplear medios fraudulentos para burlar la voluntad popularBut what, precisely, would meet this standard?
(For restricting the liberty to vote, adulturating electoral documents or employing fraudulent means to circumvent the popular will)
The best I can come up with as a basis for Matute to be threatening loss of citizenship for advocating a boycott is Constitutional Article 44. It states that
El voto es universal, obligatorio, igualitario, directo libre y secreto.Matute might try to prosecute on the basis that Tamayo, and others urging a boycott, were encouraging Hondurans to fail in a fundamental constitutional duty.
The vote is universal, obligatory, egalitarian, direct, free and secret.
With participation rates in elections dropping below 50% of the electorate, obviously, the obligatory nature of the vote is not currently being enforced. Otherwise, half the Honduran electorate would be in prison doing 4 to 6 years, based on penalties outlined in the Law of Elections, Decreto 44-204, which became effective with its publication in La Gaceta on May 15, 2004.
Article 209, point 1, of the electoral law sanctions anyone who "impedes another with or without violence from exercising his or her electoral rights". Or Matute could try to apply Article 212, point 15, which sanctions "supplanting another person in the exercise of the vote" (which carries the same penalty) but that pretty clearly is intended for someone pretending to be someone else.
I cannot find anything in Honduran election law that actually says urging others not to vote is punishable.
There isn't even anything defining sanctions for failing to exercise the "obligatory" vote.
I question whether a legal case could actually be made for violating the constitutional demand that all citizens vote.
So while this constitutional prescription must be the basis on which the de facto regime now threatens those who are speaking out against forced participation in the November elections, if they are held under the authoritarian regime, I am dubious about there actually being a legal basis under the penal code that would allow prosecution of someone urging others not to vote.
Matute vaguely says
these are serious errors and could carry responsibilities (for Tamayo).Looking at it from the basis of the actual law codes he would need to satisfy in a prosecution, this reads as intimidation.
The bad news: the regime is apparently prepared to prosecute an internationally known activist who also happens to be a Catholic priest on flimsy charges that could easily be countered, among other things with the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the requirement that people not be prosecuted for their opinions.
The good news: the only reason for them to be this concerned is if a boycott seems like a viable and dangerous thing.