Reporter’s house burgled

New York, July 8, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by recent threats against two Guatemalan journalists and by the burglary of a reporter’s house in which his notes for an investigative article were stolen.

These incidents are the latest in a series of threats and violent attacks against Guatemalan journalists during the last few months that CPJ condemned in a June 26 letter to Special Prosecutor Marco Antonio Cortez.

1. Carmen Judith Morán Cruz
On June 29, an unidentified caller threatened Morán, correspondent for the news agency Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (Cerigua) in Salamá, the capital of the central department of Baja Verapaz, by phone. Morán had just returned from a monthly meeting with other Cerigua correspondents in Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City. According to Morán, the caller, who had a masculine voice, said: “You are back. This is just to tell you that you have 24 hours to resign from Cerigua. I ran out of patience because of the things you publish there.”

Ten minutes after the first call, the caller phoned again and repeated the threat, adding that if she did not obey, Morán and her children would suffer the consequences, said the journalist. A third threatening call came on July 3. The caller claimed to be watching her and said that because she didn’t obey the orders, someone from her family would be killed. Morán believes that the same person made all three calls.

Morán thinks that the threats are in retaliation for reports she has filed for Cerigua. According to the journalist, she has covered the work of the Association for the Integral Development of Victims of Violence in the Verapaces Maya Achí (ADIVIMA), which has carried out exhumations of clandestine graves in an area where civilians were massacred in 1981 during Guatemala’s civil war.

Morán also told CPJ that she filed a report on a June 14 campaign rally held by Efraín Ríos Montt, the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) candidate for the November 9 elections. Ríos Montt was forced to suspend the rally when peasants, some of whom had lost relatives to political violence during the civil war, pelted the candidate and his supporters with stones and sticks.

2. Luis Barillas
On June 23, an unidentified caller with a masculine voice telephoned Barillas, a correspondent for the daily Prensa Libre in the town of Rabinal in Baja Verapaz Department. According to Barillas, the caller said that that was the first “peaceful” call and that he’d better keep quiet. The next day, Barillas received another phone threat. This time the caller said: “You are going to die, it may take weeks or months but you are going to die.” Barillas could not tell whether the two calls came from the same person.

On the morning of July 4, a small explosive was thrown into Barillas’ backyard. No one was injured, and nothing was damaged. That day, Barillas traveled to Guatemala City under police protection. On July 5, Barillas’ father called him and told him that his sister, who also lives in Rabinal, had received an anonymous death threat.

In addition to working for Prensa Libre, Barillas also works for the daily Nuestro Diario and is the host and director of the news program “La Voz de la Parroquia” (The Voice of the Parish), which is broadcast by the Catholic radio station Radio San Pablo.

Barillas thinks that the threats and the attack are connected to his coverage of Ríos Montt’s June 14 campaign rally.

3. Luis Eduardo de León
On July 3, unidentified individuals broke into the house of de León, a journalist who works for the daily elPeriódico‘s investigative unit.

De León told CPJ that the front door and the main door to his house were forced open. The burglars took his computer and several diskettes that contained notes for an article he was working on about several recent cases of official corruption. They also took documents that belonged to de León’s wife, who had worked for several years at the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala. Recording equipment was also taken, but the intruders left valuable items such as electrical appliances, silver jewelry, and cash.

The journalist believes that the robbery is linked to his investigative work as a reporter.