BY ISN STAFF | August 22, 2017

On July 19, 2017, Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J., a prominent human rights advocate in Honduras and director of Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús en Honduras (ERIC) and Radio Progeso, joined hundreds of students at a concert protesting the treatment of their fellow classmates by university authorities at the at the national university in Honduras.

In retaliation, the university’s rector accused Fr. Melo of promoting anarchy and generating violence. Subsequently, the university canceled its contract with ERIC, the Honduran Jesuit social action center which Fr. Melo has directed for a number of years.

Fr. Melo at a protest in Honduras.

In a recent letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging immediate pressure on the government of Honduras, the provincials of the Jesuits in English Canada and the Jesuits in French Canada and Haiti expressed the great irony of the accusations against Fr. Melo, considering that he is “widely known as a person of peace who, while defending freedom of expression and justice, promotes democracy and rule of law at every opportunity.”

In a statement from the Jesuit Central American Province and President of the Conference of Provincials for Latin America and the Caribbean (CPAL) of the Society of Jesus, “deep solidarity” was expressed with ERIC-Radio Progreso and “with the context of its vision of the Republic of Honduras, and with its mission to fight for faith and justice in Honduras.” The statement went on to confirm Fr. Melo’s “spirit of open and flexible dialogue, of reasonable tolerance, and of unwavering struggle for justice from a clear option for the poor and oppressed.”

Fr. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., said, “Fr. Melo’s entire life has been devoted to freedom of expression and human rights. It’s egregious that he’s being accused of inciting violence when he’s watched dear friends like environmental activist Berta Cáceres be gunned down for speaking up for the people of Honduras.”

Fr. Melo with environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016.

According to Matthew Ippel, S.J., a U.S. Jesuit who spent time in Honduras with Fr. Melo, the public attack against Fr. Melo by the university rector is a threat and part of a pattern of attack against human rights defenders. “It is embedded in a larger narrative that makes any dissenting voice the enemy. It is deeply alarming that those who advocate for justice, for the defense of the rights of the marginalized and excluded, are being discredited, criminalized and assassinated,” said Ippel in an article published in The Jesuit Post.

Last year when the national university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), was embroiled in student strikes, Fr. Melo sat at the negotiating table at the request of students. While agreements were reached between the students and the university, this year student strikes and protests continued, and in the aftermath many students have been injured at the hands of university-hired security forces and many more have been arrested. Additionally, the recent murder of the father of a student activist, who was killed after attending the judicial hearing of his son, has created a climate of fear for those exercising their right to protest peacefully.

Radio Progreso, an important independent voice in a country where most broadcast outlets are controlled by special interests, serves both rural communities and large cities. In the last several years, two employees of ERIC and Radio Progreso have been murdered and threats have been made against others. In late March of this year, a defamation campaign targeted Fr. Melo and other activists.

According to the Organization of American States, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world for human rights defenders.  

ERIC and Radio Progreso received ISN’s Legacy of the Martyrs Award in 2014, which honors those who have made significant contributions to sustaining the witness and legacy of the Jesuit martyrs and their companions. Fr. Melo was a keynote speaker at hte 2014 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.

[Central American Province of the Society of Jesus, The Jesuit Post, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States]

Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J. at the 2014 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice:

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