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Transparency International calls on Guatemalan authorities to investigate murder of journalists

Transparency International today strongly condemned the murder of two journalists and the injuring of a third in Guatemala, who worked to uncover corruption in the country.

Danilo López of the newspaper Prensa Libre and Frederico Salazar of Radio Nuevo Mundo were killed in broad daylight this Tuesday in Mazatenango, a town in southwest Guatemala. Both journalists have received death threats in the past. Marvín Israel Túnchez of television broadcaster Canal 30 was seriously injured in the same attack. This brings the number of journalists murdered in the Americas over the last six months to ten.

An independent media is a cornerstone of democracy and a vital pillar of national integrity, yet the complete impunity for attacks against journalists in Guatemala has caused fear among the media to report on critical issues, including corruption.

“The murder of journalists is not just a criminal action, but it is also a symbol of the state’s weaknesses. If the Guatemalan government and judicial authorities want to show strength and that they are up to the task of fighting corruption with actions, not just empty words, they must lead a murder investigation that is convincing and punishes those responsible”, said Alejandro Salas, Transparency International’s Regional Director for the Americas.

On many occasions, journalists in the country have uncovered acts of corruption and exposed bribery schemes. One of the murdered journalists, Danilo López, published an article alleging the mayor of San Lorenzo, José Leon Linares Rojas, diverted 2.8 million quetzal (approximately USD350.000) of public money to his own bank account. Acción Ciudadana, Transparency International’s national chapter in Guatemala, and a group of residents of the municipality had filed a complaint against the mayor for the same corruption case in 2012. Despite a judge recommending the mayor’s immunity be withdrawn, the court of appeal overturned the ruling and today he remains free.

This illustrates a clear lack of enforcement of justice in Guatemala. Reporters Without Borders ranked Guatemala 125 out of 180 in the 2014 World Press Freedom index, revealing an institutional disregard, and even disrespect, for the freedom of speech and the media.

Transparency International, together with Acción Ciudadana, calls for the case to be reopened and the immunity of the mayor removed. The alleged corruption network in San Lorenzo must be investigated given the connection to this week’s murders. The journalist started receiving threats just after he began to write about this case. He reported to the prosecutor’s office that the threats came from the mayor of San Lorenzo.

The government must take immediate action to protect whistle-blowers and to tackle impunity, so that dissenting voices stop fearing reprisals. “Impunity is a historical problem in Guatemala, largely caused by the lack of judicial independence, corruption and organised crime. It is high time to stop this vicious circle. Bringing those responsible for the murders to justice would be a first step in that direction”, said Salas.

Note to editors: For a Spanish translation of this press release, click here. You can read Acción Ciudadana’s press release on the case here.

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Natalie Baharav
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