Attacks on the Press 2007: Americas Snapshots

Attacks & developments throughout the region





• Cameraman Lázaro Abreu and reporter Alberto Tavares, Miami-based journalists with the Telemundo network, and Osvaldo Duarte, a cameraman for Univisión’s Channel 23 in Miami, were detained on February 7 by Nassau prison guards when they reported on a group of Cubans rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from an uninhabited Bahamian island. The Cuban refugees, found on the tiny Elbow Cay after surviving a journey that killed six others, were held at the Carmichael Detention Center in Nassau. Channel 23 reporter Mario Vallejo was pushed and punched by a guard when he called the station to report the journalists’ detentions, Emilio Marrero, the station’s news director, told CPJ. The journalists were held for several hours and released without charge, Marrero said.

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• Unidentified attackers flung homemade bombs at the offices of Canal 7, a state-owned television station in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, around 3 a.m. on September 8, according to press reports. No injuries were reported, but one explosive shattered a window, and the other caused a small fire to an exterior wall. Canal 7 regional director, Sandro Jaramillo, told Bolivian reporters that unidentified people had threatened the station before the attack. He said callers told Canal 7 that it would suffer consequences for not giving positive coverage to a general strike by a local right-wing militant group, the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista.

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• Local police punched, kicked, and struck with riot shields six journalists covering clashes between security forces and high school students during a massive May 30 demonstration demanding education reform. More than half a million students protested in Santiago, calling for a reduction in public transportation fares and in the inequities between rich and poor schools. Marcos Cabrera, a cameraman for RedTV, Fernando Fiedler, a photographer for the daily Diario Financiero, and Livio Saavedra, a cameraman for the Concepción-based Canal 9, were injured. Julio Oliva, editor of the Santiago weekly El Siglo, said he and reporters Iván Valdés and Marcos Díaz were briefly detained after attempting to help a protester struck by a car. Police punched the three journalists and shoved them into a truck, Oliva told CPJ. After President Michelle Bachelet ordered an investigation, the chief of special police forces was fired.

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• CPJ urged President Oscar Arias to bring Costa Rica’s defamation laws into compliance with international standards on freedom of expression. In a June 8 letter, CPJ expressed concern about a May 3 decision by the Costa Rican Constitutional Court to uphold a press law that makes defamation a crime. Article 7 of the 1902 statute imposes a prison sentence of up to 120 days for defamation in print media. CPJ also expressed alarm over a bill introduced in Congress seeking to establish press regulatory agencies and impose strict controls on journalism. In a July 14 letter to CPJ, Justice Minister Laura Chinchilla said that the government “will not help or support any legislative proposal that hinders press freedom in any way.”

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• Roberto Sandoval, host of opinion programs on Radio Comercial and Telecable Nacional’s Canal 10, was abducted by three unidentified people outside his Santo Domingo home on March 8, according to Dominican press reports. His abductors drove Sandoval 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the Dominican capital, where they threatened to kill him, the reports said. The journalist escaped by jumping from a moving vehicle, as his assailants fired gunshots at him, colleague Rudy Germán Pérez told CPJ. One of the assailants’ shots grazed Sandoval’s back, and he suffered minor injuries when he leapt from the vehicle. News reports said the assailants searched for Sandoval, but he hid in a wooded area until they were gone. Sandoval, who often reports on crime and is critical of Dominican law enforcement, temporarily left his home with his family following the attack, Germán Pérez said.

• Dominican police arrested Vladimir Pujols, one of two gang members accused of the September 2004 murder of journalist Juan Emilio Andújar Matos of Radio Azua and Listín Diario. Pujols, who was arrested on March 29, denied involvement in the murder. A second suspect, Luis Tejeda Filpo, was shot to death by police two days after Andújar was murdered. Andújar was ambushed and shot in the head after a broadcast in which he reported on a bloody crime wave that pitted gang members against police in Azua.

• A Santo Domingo judge convicted journalists Enrique Crespo, Ali David Demey, and Anaylis Cañizales of criminal defamation on July 27. The Association of Art Reporters accused the three hosts of the cable television show “Los Dueños el Circo” of defamation when they suggested that winners of the group’s annual Casandra Awards had paid off the judges. The association, known as Acroarte, said the accusation was untrue. Crespo and Demey were fined 4 million pesos (US$118,000) each, and Cañizales was fined 2 million pesos (US$59,000). Crespo told CPJ that he and his colleagues would appeal.

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• The body of José Luis León Desiderio, host of the daily news program “Opinión” on local Radio Minutera, was found in the coastal city of Guayaquil on February 14. León had often denounced gang violence and police inaction in the city. León, who had not been robbed, received a text message on his cell phone threatening him with death only days before his murder.

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• At least 14 Salvadoran reporters and photographers were harassed and attacked with stones, sticks, and pepper spray during violent July 5-7 street protests against increases in electric and public transportation fees in San Salvador. Violence erupted after police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Protesters wearing red shirts identifying them as FMLN supporters were seen attacking journalists in at least two instances, CPJ research shows. FMLN leaders condemned the violence but said the acts were committed by elements outside its party. Protesters told some of the journalists that they were being targeted as alleged supporters of the “right-wing” Salvadoran government.

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• On February 1, Guatemala’s Constitutionality Court struck down laws that criminalized expressions deemed offensive to public officials. The court ruled the desacato, or disrespect, provisions to be unconstitutional, declaring them “an attack on freedom of expression and the right to be informed.” The decision by Guatemala’s highest court voided Articles 411, 412, and 413 of the penal code, which called for prison terms of six months to three years for those who offend government or other public officials.

• Radio host Vinicio Aguilar Mancilla was shot by an unidentified assailant during his morning jog on August 23. Aguilar, host of a daily political show on Radio 10 in Guatemala City, was approached by two men while jogging in a residential neighborhood. He said one of the men grabbed him by the hair, put a gun in his mouth, and said, “This is to shut you up.” His assailant then fired, wounding Aguilar in the mouth and, because the journalist made a defensive motion, in the hand. Aguilar was taken to a local hospital, where he underwent reconstructive surgery on his cheek, jaw, and right hand. The journalist said he believed the attack was related to his work.

• Early on the morning of September 10, radio reporter Eduardo Maas Bol was gunned down inside his car on the outskirts of the central city of Cobán in Alta Verapaz. Maas, Cobán correspondent for the Guatemala City-based Radio Punto, was on his way home after a party, his brother Félix Maas Bol told CPJ. He was shot four times, and robbery did not appear to have been a motive; his wallet and gold jewelry were found inside the car, local prosecutor Genaro Pacheco told CPJ. Maas also worked as a supervisor for the Ministry of Education, as a spokesman for the local journalists union, and as a human rights advocate, his brother said. Local authorities detained a suspect in September but did not close the investigation. In November, the Alta Verapaz human rights ombudsman, Hugo Pop, told CPJ that Maas’ journalism was a possible motive in the murder.

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• Just before midnight on August 8, at least 12 gunmen stormed the Kaieteur News printing plant in an industrial area on the outskirts of the capital, Georgetown, the newspaper’s owner, Glen Lall, told CPJ. The assailants ordered a security guard to open the gates and then shot him. They then forced five printing plant employees onto the floor and shot them in the backs of their heads, according to Lall. The five employees died, and the security guard was seriously injured. Georgetown Police Commissioner Henry Green told CPJ that three gang members were arrested in the attack. Green said gang members had been looking for weapons in a murderous rampage that resulted in five other deaths that night.

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• Octavio Carvajal, host of the opinion program “Zonas de Debates” and the news show “Más que Noticias” for the Tegucigalpa-based radio station STC Noticias, said he was punched and threatened by an official of the government-owned telecommunications company Hondutel on May 8. The official denied attacking the reporter. Carvajal, who filed a police complaint, said he had criticized the government-owned company.

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• A commission of lawyers and academics set up by President Martín Torrijos to examine penal code reform presented a draft bill in June that would double the prison term for defamation to three years. After more than 50 journalists demonstrated in Panama City against the proposals, the administration agreed to include journalists in a new commission examining the plan.

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• In a September 18 ruling, the Supreme Court of Justice reinstated the criminal defamation conviction of reporter Carlos Dogliani Staricco for a series of articles published in March 2004. The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Àlvaro Lamas, mayor of the western city of Paysandú. Dogliani’s stories in the local weekly El Regional accused Lamas of forgiving most of a landowner’s property tax debt, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. A local judge convicted Dogliani in 2004 and sentenced the reporter to five months in prison, but an appellate court overturned the verdict the following year. In its new ruling, the Supreme Court found that the right to a person’s honor limits the media’s right to inform, and that criminal defamation laws are intended to restrict freedom of expression. The court also asserted that the factual basis of the coverage was not a relevant defense, and that even accurate reporting can constitute defamation. The Uruguayan Press Association said it would take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.