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Sentence reduction for journalists' murderers concerns IAPA

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 7 March 2008 IAPA press release:

MIAMI, Florida (March 7, 2008) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed concern today at Nicaragua's commutation of sentences in the cases of the convicted murderers of journalists María José Bravo and Carlos Guadamuz, a development that it claimed "adds to the climate of impunity surrounding freedom of the press in Latin America."

Public discussion of the issue in the Central American country comes just days after the IAPA announced its concern at the sentence reductions already granted to numerous criminals after conducting a review of the legal proceedings in 84 cases of journalists' murders.

The IAPA's work, which is posted on the Web site http://www.impunidad.com , shows that 27 defendants convicted in journalists' murders have had their prison terms reduced substantially or have served under house arrest, among other benefits. While such actions may be within current law, the IAPA has been complaining about the leniency that some judges have taken - an issue highlighted at the organization's Hemisphere Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity held in the Dominican Republic last year and attended by representatives of the majority of the judiciaries of the Americas. As examples, the IAPA cited the cases of the murder of Colombian journalists Guillermo Cano and Orlando Sierra and Argentine journalist José Luis Cabezas.

According to a report in the Nicaraguan newspaper "La Prensa" this week, justices of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, apparently motivated by political interests, were allegedly seeking to commute the prison term of Eugenio Hernández González, a former mayor sentenced in January 2005 to 25 years for the November 9, 2004 murder of María José Bravo. Bravo was the correspondent of the newspapers "La Prensa" and "Hoy" in Juigalpa, Chontales province, to the southeast of Managua.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, declared, "We will be closely watching developments in this matter in Nicaragua and we trust the courts will fully uphold the verdicts."

Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper "Prensa Libre", added, "The application of independent justice, of effective trials and sentences for crimes committed against journalists is the only way that we can rely on being able to do away with impunity and break the circle of violence unleashed against news men and women and the public's right to know."

Nicaragua Criminal Court Chief Judge Armengol Cuadra confirmed the "La Prensa" report and suspended hearing of the appeal of sentence under way in his court. He accused his colleagues of intending to reduce the charge against Hernández from that of murder, on which he was convicted and which carries a 15-to 20-year prison sentence, to that of manslaughter, which is subject to a lesser sentence and would enable him to be freed from prison shortly.

Meanwhile, last week, for health reasons, the Interior Ministry explained, parole was granted to William Hurtado García, sentenced in April 2004 to 21 years' imprisonment for the murder on February 10 that year of Carlos Guadamuz, host of the program "Dardos al Centro" ("Darts to the Bullseye") broadcast by the Managua television station Canal 23.

Investigations in Brazil move ahead

In a separate development, the IAPA welcomed the arrest in Brazil of four military police officers and a merchant on charges of murdering journalist Luis Carlos Barbon Filho on May 5, 2007. They have been held at the Romão Gomes military jail in São Paulo since March 4. Barbon Filho was a stringer for "Jornal do Porto" and Radio Porto FM in Porto Ferreira and also wrote for "Jornal JC Regional" in Pirassununga, São Paulo state. According to investigations carried out by the IAPA's Rapid Response Unit in Brazil shortly before his death, he had exposed unlawful activity by the military police command to which the arrested officers belonged. The merchant who has also been arrested is the owner of the weapon said to have been used in the murder.

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