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Mayor incites citizens to assault journalists; journalist and camera operator forcibly removed from event celebrating opening of municipal stadium

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - Three journalists were assaulted by residents of the municipality of Malacatancito, Huehuetenango, when they attempted to take photographs of an alleged criminal who was being handed over to the authorities by the municipality's mayor, Irene Hidalgo.

Mynor Mérida, a correspondent for the daily "Al Día", said that the journalists began to take photographs as Hidalgo was about to hand over an individual suspected of stealing motorcycles to two officials. According to Mérida, when they began taking the photographs, Hidalgo shouted, "They are taking photos," and incited the community's residents to take action.

Dany Castillo, of the "Mi Región" supplement in "El Quetzalteco", was seriously injured in the ensuing assault, while Ronald López, of the "Nuestro Diario" newspaper, was hit in the head with Castillo's camera.

Mérida was kicked in the ribs but managed to flee the scene and seek assistance from anti-riot police, who had not responded quickly enough to prevent the assaults. The three journalists were taken to a hospital in the region for treatment. One of them required 15 stitches to close his wounds.

The journalists lodged a complaint against Hidalgo with the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos) and the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público).

In a separate incident, independent journalist Omar Sandoval and his camera operator were forcibly removed from an event celebrating the opening of a municipal stadium in San Pedro Ayampuc, in the department of Guatemala.

Sandoval said that the municipal treasurer, Mynor Torres, in an apparent drunken state, told him that he could not take photographs of the event because he had published articles against the local mayor. The municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc has prohibited the daily "El Sol de San Pedro" from accessing municipal information since the newspaper's founding four years ago.

Ileana Alamilla, the coordinator of CERIGUA's Journalists' Observatory, lamented the fact that local authorities go beyond their roles and incite the population to violence, resulting in an environment that is highly unfavourable for the work of journalists.

The Journalists' Observatory, in its analysis of the freedom of expression situation in the country, has highlighted abuses committed by authorities against journalists.

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