TV reporter gunned down, cameraman injured in Guatemala

New York, April 2, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Guatemalan authorities today to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the shooting of a two-man TV crew in Guatemala City on Wednesday. Unidentified gunmen killed veteran reporter Rolando Santiz and injured cameraman Antonio de León. 

At around 5:10 p.m., Santiz and de León, a news crew for the national television station Telecentro 13, were approached by two men on a motorcycle as they were driving to the station’s offices in Guatemala City, according to local news reports and CPJ interviews. The assailants shot at the car repeatedly, killing Santiz immediately and injuring de León in the head, jaw, and chest.

De León was taken to the Hospital General San Juan de Dios, Elsie Sierra, a spokeswoman for the TV station, told CPJ. A hospital spokesman told local reporters today that de León was in stable condition.

“We are saddened by the death of Rolando Santiz and send our condolences to his friends and family,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “Guatemalan authorities must ensure that the investigation into Santiz’s killing is thorough and provide Antonio de León with the ongoing necessary protection to assure that he is able to continue working as a journalist.”

Santiz worked a as a reporter for more than 30 years and was well-known in Guatemala, local journalists told CPJ. He had covered the police beat for 15 years. According to Sierra, Santiz said he had received death threats but it is not clear whether they were linked to a specific story. Sierra said the station constantly receives threats.

Rember Larios, deputy director of the Guatemalan police, told local reporters that authorities have begun an investigation and have moved de León into protective custody, according to Sierra. No information about the possible motive or suspects has been made public, Sierra told CPJ.

Violence associated with organized crime has escalated in Guatemala in the last few years, creating a generalized climate of fear. In 2008, two journalists were killed and a third was kidnapped, according to CPJ research. On May 12, an unidentified assailant shot and killed Jorge Mérida Pérez, a correspondent for the national daily Prensa Libre who had been covering drug trafficking and corruption in southwestern Quetzaltenango. A graphic designer for El Periódico, Abel Girón Morales, died on October 22 after he was struck in the heart by an arrow outside his home in Guatemala City.

On August 20, José Ruben Zamora, El Periódico‘s president and a 1995 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, was abducted as he was leaving a bar on the outskirts of the capital. In October, a Guatemala City judge sentenced three people to prison on charges of kidnapping, robbery, criminal deception, and conspiracy. However, local journalists expressed some skepticism as to whether the right people had been sentenced, saying that Zamora had made many enemies as a result of years of investigating organized crime and corruption.