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Security for Guatemalan editor reduced after paper alleges government corruption

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its concerns with the deterioration of press freedom in Guatemala after two armed attacks during recent weeks that left a journalist injured and another one dead. The organization also condemned the continued advertising discrimination made by the federal government against the newspaper elPeriódico.

The IAPA also reproached the attacks against Fredy Rodas and asked that an in-depth investigation be put in place. Rodas, correspondent of Radio Sonora in Mazatenango, province of Suchitepéquez, was intercepted on Monday evening (August 12, 2013) near his home by unidentified assaulters who shot him three times in the face and in his back. He was rushed to the hospital, where he is currently in stable condition. The motive for the attack is still unknown.

Furthermore, the organization -standing by the reports from elPeriódico's editor José Rubén Zamora from recent months- reaffirmed its concerns regarding the practice of withholding official advertising and using government coercion against private sector advertisers as a means of putting pressure on media outlets.

The tension caused by the allegations of corruption against the public administration's office, published in elPeriódico, is understood to have been the reason behind the change in Zamora's security protection, put in place in 2003 as a precautionary measure requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after an attack on Zamora.

In a paid announcement published August 14 in elPeriódico, the Coordinating Committee of Executive Policy Regarding Human Rights Matters (COPREDEH) and the Interior Ministry explained that the editor's protection was removed after an evaluation of the security measures was completed, a change that is also affecting 28 other cases.

During this announcement, the government- after pointing out the cost and details surrounding Zamora's protection- announced that “In effect, elPeriódico has the habit of publishing false, subjective and unfounded claims against government officials. However, with respect for and guarantee of the right to the free dissemination of thought, the publisher has in no way been intimidated or suppressed, nor restricted, as the public has been led to believe.”

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, expressed his discontent towards the contradiction made by the government. “The government cannot say it is respectful of press freedom and that it does not intimidate a media outlet when it is evident – and government officials have admitted it – that elPeriódico is being discriminated against through the reduction of official advertising budgets.

“The financial coercion,” added Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, “shows a serious lack of freedom of the press and the public's right to information, as indicated in treaties like the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Declaration of Chapultepec, as well as in rulings made by national and international courts regarding the issue.”

Zamora has denied the government's accounts in an op-ed piece in his paper and has also referred to the different official reports concerning a recent argument that took place outside his home with agents of the Public Prosecutor's Office. He said that it was an act of intimidation, while the government claims that it was an attempt to deliver correspondence referring to the changes in the parameters concerning his safety.

Zamora maintains that the acts of intimidation are part of an orchestrated campaign lead by the government to discredit his newspaper and undermine the credibility of his allegations of abuse, power and corruption.

The IAPA also urged the government to further investigate other acts of violence that have occurred in the country. In addition to Rojas' attack, last week the radio announcer Luis de Jesús Lima was murdered in Zacapa; on April 7, and March 20 Luis Alberto Lemus Ruano and Napoleón Jarquín Duarte, respectively, were murdered.

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