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WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY MARRED BY VIOLENCE

On World Press Freedom Day (3 May), as journalists converged in Colombia for the UN's official celebration to call for greater unity to protect their colleagues and to fight impunity against their attackers, a radio producer was gunned down in Guatemala City. Two days later, a Brazilian reporter was shot to death.

Rolando López Sánchez, a general producer for Radio Sonora for 14 years and co-producer of the daily political programme "Casos y Cosas de la Vida Nacional", was shot dead by unidentified assailants in a building in the capital, reports the Centre of Informative Reports on Guatemala (Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala, CERIGUA). CERIGUA said not a single item was stolen from him, leading the organisation to believe the attack was related to López's work.

The Press Freedom Committee of the Guatemalan Journalists' Association (Comisión de Libertad de Prensa de la Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala, APG), in a statement on World Press Freedom Day, bemoaned the violence: "On this day, when we should be celebrating the existence of a fundamental right, we instead have to mourn the irreparable loss of many of our colleagues in Latin America and the rest of the world."

According to APG, there were 89 violations of freedom of expression in Guatemala in 2006, more than double the number in the previous year. APG blamed the rise on the dirty work of the "poderes paralelos", or "parallel powers" - gangs or groups that operate outside the law, sometimes with the support of governments - who are "setting up territories where impunity prevails and where they impose the law that 'those with weapons rule'."

Meanwhile, Brazilian journalist Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho was killed by gunmen on a motorbike while sitting at a bar in the southern state of São Paulo on 5 May, report the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Institute for Press and Society (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, IPYS). Barbon was a columnist for the local dailies "Jornal do Porto" and "JC Regional", and a contributor to the local radio station Rádio Porto FM. He was known for his investigative reporting that exposed political corruption, including his 2003 exposé of a child prostitution ring, which resulted in the arrest and sentencing of four businessmen and five local politicians, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Elsewhere in Latin America, bucking the trend of impunity, the killers of journalists were brought to justice in the Dominican Republic. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and CPJ report that Edri Vladimir "Vla" Pujols, a member of the gang "Los Sayayines", was sentenced on 2 May to 30 years in prison for the 2004 murder of Juan Andújar, a correspondent of the daily "Listín Diario". Local news reports said the attack came moments after Andújar had reported on a bloody crime wave that pitted gang members against police in Azua city.

Pujols was also ordered to pay 1.3 million Pesos (US$40,310) to radio reporter Jorge Luis Sención, says RSF, who had to have an arm amputated after being attacked by Pujols because he had witnessed Andújar's murder. CPJ reports that fellow gang member Juan Ricardo Muños Herrera was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy, and that a third member of the gang, Maikel Bienvenido Agramonte, was not tried because he was a minor at the time of the crime. His case will be transferred to a local juvenile court.

The conviction of Pujols is unusual. According to CPJ research, killers of journalists are charged in less than 15 percent of cases. "We hope that the prosecution illustrates to governments that impunity need not prevail," CPJ says.

To deal with the dramatic increase in press freedom violations in Latin America, APG is urging more unity among journalists, and construction of a broad-based alliance with other civil society organisations, the state and the international community. IFEX members are currently developing a support strategy for the region. For more information about the "Poderes Paralelos" campaign, email the IFEX Campaigns Programme at: campaigns[@]ifex[.]org

Visit these links:
- CERIGUA on López: http://tinyurl.com/2k7jjp
- APG: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83153/
- IAPA: http://www.sipiapa.com
- IPYS on Barbon: http://tinyurl.com/2uro54
- CPJ on Barbon: http://tinyurl.com/2q6zy7
- CPJ on Pujols: http://tinyurl.com/35jybl
- RSF on Pujols: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11410
(Image courtesy of the World Association of Newspapers)

(8 May 2007)

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