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Journalist for "elPeriódico" newspaper followed, threatened; director of same newspaper assaulted, abducted for over ten hours

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - On 21 August 2008, two journalists from the newspaper "elPeriódico" were the victims of serious acts of aggression that violate press freedom. The newspaper's president, José Rubén Zamora, was kidnapped for over 10 hours, and young investigative journalist Óscar Ixmatul was followed and threatened by unidentified individuals. Although initially it was not clear if Zamora's kidnapping was connected to his work, given the act of aggression against Ixmatul so soon after Zamora's kidnapping, both incidents are believed to be attempts to silence the two journalists and "elPeriódico".

Ixmatul, an investigative journalist, was followed on the afternoon of 21 August by several unidentified individuals in a white vehicle. When he realised he was being followed he boarded a city bus. He got off the bus after traveling for several blocks, believing he had managed to shake the vehicle following him. However, it immediately reappeared. Three heavily armed individuals got out of it and pushed him against a wall. They then began insulting him in a very threatening manner. The assailants took his cell phone from him along with several documents related to his work.

Silvia Gereda, the editor of "elPeriódico", who reported the incident to CERIGUA, expressed her concern about the two incidents. Gereda said that Ixmatul keeps a low profile and works on issues of government corruption that are considered very serious, in addition to issues regarding anomalies in the granting of contracts. She added that given the assailants' characteristics and the way in which the attacks were carried out, she believes the two incidents are connected, since they occurred nearly simultaneously, and that they were intended as a clear warning to the newspaper.

A complaint about the attack on Ixtamul has already been filed with the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público).

Earlier that day, Zamora was attacked and held captive for over ten hours by individuals who intercepted him in Guatemala City's Zone 10. He was freed near a hospital in the department of Chimaltenango, 56 kilometres west of Guatemala City. He was then taken to the hospital and admitted, unidentified, with weak vital signs. Gereda, the newspaper's editor, said that analyses of Zamora's blood later showed he had been administered a high dose of a powerful barbiturate.

Zamora's assailants meanwhile abandoned his vehicle in Guatemala City's Zone 9, after taking his credit cards and a briefcase with various "elPeriódico" documents from his vehicle. Investigators on Zamora's case later found that his cell phone had been used on the afternoon of 21 August in Chimaltenango, while his credit cards were used at supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations and a pharmacy.

Ileana Alamilla, the coordinator of CERIGUA's Journalist's Observatory and president of the Guatemalan Journalists' Association's (APG) Press Freedom Commission, said that the attacks on the "elPeriódico" personnel have already been reported to human rights organisations at the national and international level, as well as freedom of expression organisations around the world.

"These are no longer subtle messages, but rather direct attacks aimed at silencing the press," Alamilla added, urging that the authorities immediately take measures to investigate the incidents and protect the press.

Press freedom organisations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Knight Foundation for International Press and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), along with human rights organisations have expressed their solidarity with Zamora and called on the government to investigate and clarify the motive for the attacks.

This is not the first time that Zamora has been attacked. In 2003 his home was raided by armed members of the government security service, and he and his family were threatened with murder. The incident occurred after he published a column indicating that General Efraín Ríos Montt was a key figure in Guatemala's unelected "parallel powers".

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