Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to investigate armed attacks on Radio Nuevo Mundo installations on 4 September in Salamá, in Baja Verapaz department, and on 11 September in Guatemala City. The ongoing elections have been marred by an alarming level of violent crime and the press freedom organisation urges the president who is elected in the 4 November run-off to immediately take steps to protect journalists.
“Guatemala is one of the western hemisphere countries where press freedom is most at risk and the situation does not look set to improve in 2007,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Eleven years after the end of the civil war, human rights violations, attacks on freedom of expression and impunity have not disappeared.”
The organisation added: “We join the Guatemala Journalists Association (APG) in calling on both of the presidential candidates in the second round to include energetic measures to reinforce the rule of law in their programmes, and in the meantime we urge the police and judicial authorities to establish the circumstances and motives of the two attacks on Radio Nuevo Mundo.”
A shot was fired into Radio Nuevo Mundo’s regional office in Salamá from the roof of a neighbouring building on 4 September. Journalists and technicians were present but no one was injured. Cable Star Channel reporter and cameraman Erwin David Hernández was kidnapped for several hours the same day in Salamá by two men who ordered him to say nothing about Rolando Rivera, the mayor of the nearby town of Cubulco, currently the target of a great deal of criticism from his voters.
Gunmen burst into a Radio Nuevo Mundo relay station on Cerro Alux, a hill overlooking the capital, on 11 September. Threatening and overpowering technicians, they destroyed some of the equipment and took the rest.
These press freedom violations have come at the height of a presidential election campaign in which the two second-round candidates are Alvaro Colom, a social-democrat, and Otto Pérez, a right-wing retired police general. Some 50 activists and candidates for local office were killed in the run-up to the first round on 9 September, and security issues have dominated the political debate.
Among the many threats and attacks on journalists this year, two cases stand out. Winder Jordán Madrid, a local radio station manager, narrowly survived a shooting attack on 2 February, while photographer Jorge Alejandro Castañeda Martínez was gunned down in the capital on 5 July. No one has been arrested for his murder.