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Guatemala13 October 2008

Journalist officially under protection threatened by armed men near his home

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its alarm after investigative journalist and press freedom activist José Pelicó was threatened with death by submachine gun-toting individuals near his home while supposedly under police protection.

Not a single police officer of the National Civil Police (PNC) was on hand when the journalist, who works for the organisation Cerigua (Center for informative reports on Guatemala) was intercepted by armed men after he drove his wife and son home from a shopping trip on the evening of 5 October.

“How can a journalist, who on several occasions told the authorities that he was being targeted and should have been under police protection, be held up at gunpoint a few metres from his home?”, the worldwide press freedom organisation asked.

“The José Pelicó case has been known to the PNC for six months, as well as to the special prosecutor’s office responsible for attacks on the press and the human rights prosecutor. However the investigation appears to have stalled and José Pelicó is living in a state of permanent insecurity.

“We call for a rapid review of the protection for his family and himself and we hope to see greater urgency in resolving this case,” the organisation added.

Pelicó realised that he was being followed by a dark coloured vehicle with tinted windows when he left his home on 5 October to drive his wife and son to make a purchase. Armed men suddenly appeared around the vehicle as they reached home.

They pointed guns at him, saying that this time they were leaving, but he would be killed the next time. The journalist had received the same kind of threat in April, after which he asked for and was accorded PNC protection. However on that evening, no police officer was present in the area. A week earlier, armed men passed near the house shooting in the air and shouting: “We’ve found you, you are going to die.”

Pelicó described the failings in his protection to Reporters Without Borders. “The police said they would set up a security perimeter around my house, but in six months officers have only come to my house on two occasions and then stopped coming”, he said.

After the last incident, police came 20 minutes later and seemed to be unaware of the protection organised for me”, he said. Pelicó said he felt “very vulnerable” and has asked for a personal guard while he was moving around for his work.

He believed there was a link between the threats and his investigative work in highly sensitive areas like corruption, organised crime and drug-trafficking. He also complained of a lack of information and results in the police investigation. He said the special prosecutor’s office at the public ministry had confined itself to inquiries with the telephone operator in connection with phone threats he received in April.

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