“I could not look my children in the eye and live with the knowledge that I didn’t do anything to help my country.”
Journalist and human rights defender. Dina Meza is a well-known independent journalist and defender of the rights to freedom of expression and information. She is also the founding President of PEN Honduras, which supports journalists at risk. Dina also publishes investigative reports on human rights violations and corruption through her online news magazine Pasos de Animal Grande. In 2007, Dina received Amnesty International UK’s special award for at-risk journalists, and in 2014, Dina received the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Freedom of Expression Award.
Can you tell us about your work?
Although I have been a journalist since 1992, I am not able to work in mainstream media because I’m considered a dissident. So in 2014, I created Pasos de Animal Grande, an online news magazine. There is a lot of censorship in Honduras, but using digital media allows me to independently address profound themes such as impunity, violence against women, and violence against human rights defenders. I also work as a human rights defender, and despite the multiple threats I receive constantly, I am able to do my work thanks to the support of Peace Brigades International which accompanies me when I do my interviews. I also accompany students at the national university when they protest, and are jailed for expressing their views.
What made you decide to do this work?
It was a family tragedy that made me focus on human rights. In 1989 my older brother was abducted by the military and taken to a clandestine location where he was tortured for five days. Thankfully he made it out alive, but the military broke his spine and he was never able to return to a normal life. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized to what extent human rights violations were plaguing Honduras. This experience taught me that no family should go through this alone, and I have committed my life to working with families as they fight for the human rights of their loved ones. I could not look my children in the eye and live with the knowledge that I didn’t do anything to help my country. I have three children, two sons and a daughter, and they are all deeply impacted by my work. They understand that this could have terrible consequences, but they also understand that it is necessary to bring the change we all long for in our country.
What kind of threats have you had to face as a result of your work?
On a daily basis, I live with the constant fear of someone breaking into my car, I am followed by cars with plates that have no numbers, and have received several threatening phone calls. My family and I have lived with threats against us for the past 11 years. We constantly have to move houses. Armed men regularly come to our door. My daughter has received sexual threats, even on her way to school. My phone is taped every hour of the day. This is what life looks like for a human rights defender in a country like Honduras. But it has also taught us how to protect ourselves. And the support of organizations like Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International and PEN International has been key for me to continue what I do.
Being a human rights defender in an oppressive environment can be deeply overwhelming. How do you take care of heart and spirit in such an aggressive space?
I believe that one should never lose hope. I am a Christian, and feel like God protects me. I hear testimonies of people who suffer from extreme human rights abuses every day. I often have students crying on my shoulders after being beaten by the men in uniform for exercising their rights. Seeing the youth fighting for a better Honduras gives me strength and inspiration. It may be hard but I absolutely love my work. I love being a journalist, and I love defending human rights.
What would you say to a young activist—in Honduras or anywhere in the world—who is fighting a situation that seems hopeless?
Everything changes. No evil lasts forever, so do not despair. Hold on to hope, hold on to your motivation to change the system. Those who are harming the world are fewer than those of us who are fighting to correct them. We need to remember, and focus on that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Honduras is a beautiful country but needs much solidarity from the world. About 12 people are controlling the wealth in the country and oppressing local communities. I would like for people to come and witness it for themselves. I run an organization for democracy and human rights; if a young person wants to come to Honduras and help, we are happy to welcome them, we take volunteers in all the time.
Visit the PEN Honduras website.
Read more on Dina’s online news magazine Pasos de Animal Grande.
Read Dina Meza: a journalist living dangerously in Honduras, Toronto Star, 2014.
Read Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, PEN Canada, 2014.