The Bergen-based foundation that awards the annual Rafto Prize for Human Rights announced Thursday that this year’s winner is the Honduran priest Ismael Moreno Coto, better known as Padre Melo. He was hailed for his defense of “freedom of expression in one of the most violent countries in the world.”
The Rafto Prize jury cited Padre Melo, a radio activist, for his use of the media to defend freedom of expression and fundamental rights in Honduras, where journalists, human rights activists and others are often subjected to “serious harassment and death threats.”
The jury called the 57-year-old Padre Melo “a fearless spokesperson who works tirelessly to investigate and communicate the reasons for the violence and abuse committed against vulnerable groups in society.”
The Rafto Foundation also claimed that the Honduran priest has become a strong public advocate of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights through his writings and work as a priest, in addition to his radio advocacy.
He was born in El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras on New Year’s Day 1958 and studied philosophy before obtaining a master’s degree in theology. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1989 and has been director of Radio Progreso in his hometown since 2006, a local, independent radio station that reaches 1.5 million listeners. It was shut down by the military during a coup in 2009 and has been occupied several times because of its independent, progressive reports against social injustice in Honduras. Two of its team members have been murdered and Padre Melo has stated that 16 of its employees have received several death threats.
Melo will receive his prize, which consists of a diploma and cash award of USD 20,000, at a ceremony in Bergen on November 1. The Rafto Prize for Human Rights has been awarded by the Rafto Foundation since 1987 and several of its winners have also gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, including Shirin Ebadi and Aung San Suu Kyi.