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BLOODY WEEK FOR LOCAL JOURNALISTS

Last week, two young, female radio broadcasters from the Triqui indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico were on their way back from covering a local assignment. But they never made it home. Their vehicle was ambushed on a local highway, instantly killing the two reporters and wounding four other passengers. The police found at least 20 spent AK-47 bullet cartridges at the scene.

Their deaths kicked off perhaps the bloodiest week for journalists in 2008, and illustrated some telling trends when it comes to violence against the media: all the reporters killed last week were covering news in their own countries, and so far, as with 90 percent of journalists' murders, their killers have not been found.

Before they met their deaths, Felicitas Martínez Sánchez, 21, and Teresa Bautista Merino, 24, worked as announcers for La Voz que Rompe el Silencio, a community radio station serving the Trique indigenous community in San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, report the National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS) and ARTICLE 19. The station has been broadcasting since January, a year after the municipality was given administrative autonomy.

Oaxaca has been wracked by intense political confrontations in which journalists often pay the price. Indigenous community radio stations are particularly at risk, says the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), as proven by the recent assaults on members of Radio Nandia and Radio Calenda radio stations, also based in Oaxaca. The attacks on both stations and their staff are still unpunished.

ARTICLE 19, AMARC and RSF have appealed to the Mexican government for clarification around the deaths of Bautista and Martínez, punishment for those responsible and protection for the witnesses.

But more than that, they "demand an end to the climate of impunity that is allowing such acts of aggression, disappearances and murders to continue to be committed against members of community media, as well as journalists and media outlets in general."

Elsewhere in Latin America, a television cameraman was killed while covering a gang fight in Panama City, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Eliécer Santamaría died on 8 April after he was stabbed while covering a story about gangs exchanging gunfire in the capital, according to new reports.

"This killing highlights the dangers that journalists face when they cover news in their own countries," says IFJ. "While war reporting takes many lives, our colleagues are often much more vulnerable when reporting on criminal activity in their own communities."

The same day, a radio journalist was seriously wounded and his wife was killed in a shooting attack in Curuguaty, Paraguay, report the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Alfredo Tomás Avalos was shot in the head and his Brazilian wife, Silvana Rodrígues, was killed by two men on a motorcycle.

RSF says that Avalos, a local politician who had a regular public affairs programme on FM radio, often spoke out against drug trafficking on the Paraguay-Brazil border and this would have made him a target for the drug gangs. Last year he was the target of a kidnapping attempt in 2007 and is being sued by suspected drug cartel boss Aristeu Falkenbak.

The violence against journalists and writers last week is "increasing at alarming rates," says IFJ, and extends beyond Latin America.

A popular writer in Bulgaria who wrote a series of books on the rise of Bulgaria's criminal underworld was shot and killed in the country's capital on 7 April, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Georgi Stoev, a former bodyguard and a retired member of the notorious racketeering group VIS, was on a busy Sophia street when two unidentified men fired at him at close range. He died of his wounds in hospital later that day.

Shortly before his death, Stoev had given a series of interviews to the Bulgarian press, announcing his willingness to testify against a well-known mafia boss and complaining about a lack of interest by prosecutors to follow up on the revelations in his books, according to local press reports.

And in Asia, a journalist in a Manila suburb was murdered on 7 April, the first journalist to be killed this year in the Philippines, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, CPJ and IFJ.

Benefredo Acabal was shot five times at close range by an unidentified gunman who fled the scene on a motorcycle. Acabal, publisher and columnist for the local paper "Pilipino Newsmen" in Cavite province, south of Manila, died while en route to the hospital. Police are still investigating whether Acabal had been targeted for his journalism, or for his involvement in a trucking business.

Thirty-three journalists have been killed during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's rule, whose reign has been characterised by an extraordinary number of extrajudicial killings, says CMFR.

Then just yesterday, a journalist was killed in the unstable province of Balochistan in southwestern Pakistan. Khadim Hussain Sheikh, a stringer for Sindh TV and a local bureau chief for the national Urdu-language daily "Khabrein", was shot by unidentified gunmen as he and his brother left his home by motorbike in the town of Hub, just north of Karachi, reports CPJ. The motive for the killing is unknown.

Pakistani authorities and ethnic Baloch militants have been involved in a long and violent fight for control over Balochistan province, which is rich in natural gas reserves.

"We urge the newly elected government to demonstrate its commitment to protecting the press by vigorously investigating this case, which would help break the cycle of impunity that surrounds the killing of journalists," says CPJ. Demands to fight impunity can be heard not only in Pakistan but worldwide - in one of the deadliest weeks for journalists so far this year.

Visit these links:

Mexico:
- ARTICLE 19/CENCOS: http://tinyurl.com/6o3ofo
- AMARC: http://legislaciones.amarc.org/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26511
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=6040&Language=EN
- AMARC, ARTICLE 19 and RSF joint appeal: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92500
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/65wjek
Panama:
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=6038&Language=EN
Paraguay:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26539
- IAPA: http://tinyurl.com/66spal
Bulgaria:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/6gce97
Philippines:
- CMFR: http://www.cmfr.com.ph/
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/5g9wzg
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=6037&Language=EN
Pakistan:
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2008/asia/pak14apr08na.html
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=6061&Language=EN
(Photo courtesy of the World Association of Newspapers)

(15 April 2008)

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