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Honduras27 November 2003

Journalist murdered near border with Guatemala

Reporters Without Borders today voiced sadness and outrage at the shooting death late yesterday of German Antonio Rivas, the director of a local TV station in western Honduras, who was first journalist to be murdered in Honduras in at least 20 years.

In a letter to President Ricardo Maduro, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard urged him to do everything possible to ensure that those responsible are identified and punished and called for special protection for any witnesses and for the victim’s family and colleagues.

The organisation also voiced concern at the lack of results in the investigation into an earlier shooting attack in February against Rivas, who ran Corporación Maya Visión, a TV station based in Santa Rosa del Copán, near Honduras’ western border with Guatemala.

In yesterday’s attack, Rivas was shot by two gunmen as he arrived at his TV station. The local press said he was gunned down as he got out of his car, which he had just parked outside the station.

Xiomara Orellana of Channel 34 told the daily El Tiempo that, "No one saw anything, it happened very quickly. They shot him in the head." René Rojas, a local correspondent for the Tegucigalpa-based Radio América, told the Honduran press freedom organisation C-Libre: "We think there are witnesses, but there is fear. The murderers always leave someone at the crime scene and that may be one of the reasons why no one wants to talk for the time being."

According to C-Libre and Rivas’ family, forensic experts took four hours to get to the crime scene.

Claudia Rivas, the victim’s daughter, said the killing must have been linked to his work, that there was no other explanation. Everyone mentioned the fact that Rivas narrowly escaped an attack on 24 February, when someone fired at him as he arrived home after recording the news programme "CMV Noticias."

At that time, the station had just reported about coffee and cattle smuggling across the Guatemalan border. It had also carried reports on the dumping of cyanide into the River Lara by a privately-owned company, Minerales de Occidente, which was fined 1 million lempiras (about 140,000 euros). Rivas had received threats during the weeks prior to the February attack.

Rolando Mia Cardona, the regional representative of the commissioner for human rights, said Rivas was not given special protection although a request was made to the interior ministry by his sister, Rocío Tábora, the deputy minister in the office of the president. As a result, Rivas had to hire a private bodyguard. An offer of protection was not received until three months after the February attack, and Rivas turned it down because he mistrusted the police, which is said to turn a blind eye to local smuggling or at least does little about it.

No serious investigation was ever carried out into the February attack. Rivas filed a complaint about this on 13 March with the office of the commissioner for human rights. Police who came to the scene of the attack found nothing, although an old rifle that could have been the weapon used was found the next day in a ditch by a friend of Rivas. His family complained that the police even handled the rifle without gloves. "The ballistics report is still in Tegucigalpa nine months later," Mia Cardona told Reporters Without Borders. "Indeed, there was never any follow-up in the investigation," he added.

The family said Rivas had not received any further threats after the February attack and he had not tackled any more sensitive subjects in his programmes. A fellow journalist said there were rumours that it could have been a crime of passion but they were not very credible.

Violence against the press is rare in Honduras. The most recent previous case was three years ago, when two gunmen fired on Julio Cesar Pineda of Radio Progreso outside his home in El Progreso, a small town near the central city of San Pedro Sula, seriously injuring him. His radio station had criticised the local health system and an increase in public transport fares. The attack may also have been linked to Pineda’s participation in a local commission of enquiry into links between police and criminals.

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