CPJ condemns murder of Guatemalan journalist

New York, May 12, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder of Jorge Mérida Pérez, a correspondent in Quetzatenango province for the national Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre. Mérida was shot to death in his home on Saturday afternoon. CPJ calls on the Guatemalan authorities to begin an immediate, thorough investigation into this brutal killing.

While a motive has yet to be confirmed, early indications are that the killing may have been linked to Mérida’s journalism.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, at least one unidentified individual stormed into the journalist’s home in Coatepeque, 130 miles (210 kilometers) southwest of Guatemala City, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Mérida, 40, who was working at his computer at the time of the attack, was shot four times in the head, Prensa Libre reported. His 14-year-old son was in the house but was not injured.

“It is shocking that a journalist can be killed in this matter,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator. “The gunman clearly had no fear; responsibility falls on the Guatemalan government to solve this crime and produce assurances that journalists cannot be murdered with impunity.”

According to Miguel Ángel Méndez, Prensa Libre’s deputy director, the journalist had reported recently on local drug trafficking and government corruption.

In the weeks prior to his death, Mérida told colleagues and family members that he had received multiple threats, Méndez told CPJ. The journalist did not seem overly concerned with the threats and did not give any more details, according to Méndez. Brenda Dery Muñoz, a local prosecutor for crimes related to drug trafficking, told CPJ that on at least one occasion Mérida and other reporters were threatened after covering a recent police seizure of 440 lbs. (200 kilograms) of cocaine.

According to Méndez, national authorities, who are in charge of the investigation, are focusing on Mérida’s work as the main motive behind his killing. Rosa Salazar Marroquín, the spokeswoman for the office of the special prosecutor for crimes against journalists and union members, told CPJ that the prosecutor is investigating links between Mérida’s death and his journalism.