U.S. immigration officials detain Honduran journalist after she requests asylum in Georgia
Honduran journalist Thirzia Galeas was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when she requested asylum at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 23, 2021, according to the Committee for Free Expression in Honduras (C-Libre).
Galeas is a journalist and human rights activist who worked with C-Libre, a Honduran free expression organization that supports independent journalists. She has also reported in Honduras for the digital news outlet Conexihon.hn and Reporteros de Investigación.
In a written statement, Galeas told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that her life was threatened in December 2020 when C-Libre employees were summoned for a security training. Galeas’ statement was translated from Spanish by Dagmar Thiel of Fundamedios, a partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The man who was leading the training identified himself as a government employee who worked in the Public Prosecutor’s Office and in government intelligence, Galeas said. She said he gave his name as Lester Obando.
Galeas said that Obando threatened her, telling her that there was a price on her head. She said she asked him why, and he told her it was because she knew a lot of information.
Obando told her that she had been under surveillance for a while, and told her details of what she did when she was on a recent assignment for C-Libre bringing aid to journalists in the city of San Pedro Sula who had been impacted by storms.
Galeas said several other incidents also had raised her concerns. In November 2020, the month before the man threatened Galeas, two other journalists who worked with C-Libre were detained and beaten by members of the Honduran National Police, the organization reported. When the other journalists working for the organization were standing outside of the police building, a person in a military uniform took a photo of the group, according to Galeas.
According to Galeas, Obando indicated that the journalists were detained in order to “disappear” them, or kill them. However, the two journalists were released.
In February 2021, Galeas said there was an assassination attempt on a member of C-Libre, which prompted several C-Libre colleagues to express concerns about their safety to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras. Galeas said that was the first time she said that she was afraid.
According to C-Libre, Galeas had faced harassment in Honduras since 2011. In that year, the organization said, she was assaulted by the country’s Presidential Honor Guard as the group arrived at a protest against the murders of journalists in the country. The international press freedom group IFEX reported at that time that Galeas, who was there to observe events, was punched in the face by a soldier.
According to Fundamedios, Galeas entered the United States on a tourist visa and requested asylum because of persecution. She said many journalists have been killed in Honduras.
“I left Honduras for fear of being murdered, of being one more victim,” Galeas wrote in a statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the Tracker, has documented eight journalists in Honduras killed due to their work since 1992. According to C-Libre, 87 journalists have been killed in the country over the last two decades.
Galeas was detained in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, for 18 days, according to Fundamedios. Her brother told C-Libre that she was held with about 30 other detainees, some of whom were infected with COVID-19.
Galeas has been released and is awaiting a hearing on her asylum request, she told the Tracker.
ICE did not reply to a request for comment.