New York, July 24, 2003— The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is shocked and saddened by the death of Héctor Ramírez, a reporter for Guatemala’s Channel 7 television station, who died today while covering protests in the capital, Guatemala City.
Juan Carlos Lange, news director at “Notisiete,” the news program for which Ramírez worked, told CPJ today that it is unclear exactly how the journalist, 62, died. Forthcoming autopsy results will reveal whether Ramírez died of wounds sustained after being beaten by protesters, or of a heart attack while he was trying to escape his attackers.
According to several sources, the riots broke out across Guatemala City today in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Sunday, July 20, decision granting two opposition parties an injunction temporarily barring former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt from running for president in the upcoming November 9 elections. The court will soon schedule a full hearing to determine whether Ríos Montt can run.
Today, Ríos Montt’s supporters flooded the city from rural areas, wearing masks and sticks, and targeted journalists who were covering the protests.
Other journalists narrowly escaped injury. Juan Carlos Torres, 28, a photographer at the daily elPeriódico, and Héctor Estrada, 23, cameraman at the TV station Guatevisión, fled after protesters doused them with gasoline in a failed attempt to burn both journalists. “It was crazy, the mob was completely out of control,” Haroldo Sánchez, Guatevisión news director, told CPJ.
According to CPJ sources, government authorities and the National Police did little to control the angry mobs.
“We demand an immediate and thorough investigation into this terrible incident,” said CPJ senior program coordinator Joel Campagna. “Authorities must prosecute anyone responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”