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IAPA honours memory of fallen, disappeared colleagues

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, April 30, 2010 - May this third of May be a day to honor the memory of all journalists fallen while carrying out their duties and one in which we express our most heartfelt solidarity with family, friends and colleagues affected by their loss.

Our thoughts go out to the families of the 26 journalists murdered and the seven who have gone missing over the past 12 months; in their names and those of all victims our efforts will continue directed at fighting violence and impunity, and in defense of the right of every citizen to be informed.

In response to this situation, this Monday, May 3, we launch an extensive online degree course designed to generate protection and prevent attacks against journalists. From "The Extent of Organized Crime: The Practice of Journalism in the Face of Violence," which is offered in conjunction with the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) and runs through the beginning of August, we expect reporters to acquire new tools which will allow them to become better professionals.

Also in Mexico, one of the countries where the press is most affected by organized crime, we will continue holding meetings with editors, based on our conviction that solidarity among news media will encourage the government to make the legal and judicial changes necessary to protect freedom of expression and press freedom.

Founded on this principle, we recently presented President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras with a series of recommendations to combat violence, since seven journalists have been murdered in that Central American country in the past 12 months. We proposed that the government seek an agreement with the United Nations, similar to that which exists with Guatemala, to set up an international mechanism to investigate and prosecute cases of crimes against free expression. We also proposed that they create a specific jurisdiction to deal with offenses against free speech and press freedom, and the opportunity for open discussions among the three branches of government on battling violence, among other topics; similar to requests that we have made to the authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

I would like, in addition, to highlight that in this period there have been significant procedural successes against criminals in Brazil and Colombia with seven sentences, one each in Colombia and Mexico and five in Brazil; and, to date, 100 of those responsible for the murders of journalists are paying the price, behind bars, for their actions. We will continue insisting on the need for countries to create deterrents.

Our faith in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to obtain justice remains strong and this week we presented two new cases involving Brazil, among a total of 26 submitted since 1995 and many of which have brought concrete results.

Despite our accomplishments and efforts in several countries, we must not rest on our laurels. In Colombia, for example, where the number of journalists murdered has decreased, we have identified 16 cases that have been shelved or suspended, in the hands of several public prosecutors' offices around the country and with little hope of justice.

Between now and our November General Assembly, to be held in Mérida, Yucatán, our special focus will be developing strategies and investigative, legal and educational tactics against the affliction that surrounds the press in Latin America. We recognize the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that generously supports our work.

Finally, I would like to recall the names of each of the journalists killed or disappeared in the last 12 months, since May 3rd, 2009:

Mexico: Evaristo Pacheco Solís, Jorge Ochoa Martínez, José Luis Romero, Valentín Valdés, José Alberto Velázquez López, José Emilio González Galindo, Bladimir Antuna García, Fabián Ramírez López, Norberto Miranda Madrid, Juan Daniel Martínez Gil, Ernesto Montañez Valdivia, Martín Javier Miranda Avilés, Eliseo Barrón Hernández and Carlos Ortega Melo Samper. And the whereabouts remain unknown of Ramón Angeles Zalpa, Marí Esther Aguilar Cansimbe and another five journalists from Tamaulipas.

Honduras: Georgino Orellana, Manuel Juárez, José Bayardo Mairena, Nahúm Palacios, David Meza, Joseph A. Hernández Ochoa and Gabriel Fino Noriega.

Colombia: Clodomiro Castilla Ospino, Harold Rivas Quevedo and Diego Rojas Velásquez.

El Salvador: Christian Poveda.

Guatemala: Marco Antonio Estrada.

For them and in their honor our commitment of support remains firm.

Alejandro Aguirre, Diario Las Américas, Miami, Florida
President of the Inter American Press Association

World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated each May 3, was established in commemoration of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document containing fundamental principles of the defense of press freedom drawn up in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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