Four journalists abducted by former paramilitaries

New York, October 27, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the recent abduction of four Guatemalan journalists. On Sunday, October 26, former paramilitary fighters kidnapped reporters Freddy López and Alberto Ramírez, and photographers Emerson Díaz and Mario Linares, all of the Guatemala City­based daily Prensa Libre, in the town of La Libertad, in the northwestern department of Huehuetenango.

According to CPJ sources, the former paramilitary forces—whom the Guatemalan military organized to fight for the government during the country’s 36-year-old civil war, which ended in 1996—are demanding that the government pay them for their services.

On Sunday, at around 11 a.m., López and Díaz went to Huehuetenango to cover a campaign rally by former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who is running for president for the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front. On the way to the rally, the reporters were abducted at a checkpoint illegally guarded by former paramilitary members protesting the government’s failure to pay them.

The forces beat the reporters after abducting them, according to Prensa Libre. Carlos Contreras, the journalists’ driver, fled the scene and called the paper. Ramírez and Linares were later sent to the area, together with two workers from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in an effort to win the journalists’ release. Soon after the journalists arrived near where their colleagues had been kidnapped, they identified themselves as journalists and were immediately captured by the ex-paramilitaries. The two human rights workers managed to escape.

The former paramilitaries are requesting a meeting with Huehuetenango governor Carlos Morales to express their demands. In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan government organized the paramilitaries to fight alongside government soldiers against leftist rebels during the civil war, during which about 200,000 people were killed. The paramilitaries were officially disarmed in 1995, but many have refused to surrender their weapons and continue to be accused of serious human rights violations.

Today, Gonzalo Marroquín, the director of Prensa Libre; Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales; and the director of the local human rights group Centro de Acción Legal para los Derechos Humanos (Center of Legal Action for Human Rights) Frank La Rue, flew to the area in an attempt to negotiate with the former paramilitaries.

The abduction of the four journalists occurred just two days after CPJ ended a fact-finding mission to Guatemala, during which CPJ determined that the country is one of the most dangerous for journalists in the Western Hemisphere.