Third Honduran journalist gunned down in two weeks

New York, March 16, 2010— Unidentified attackers gunned down Honduran journalist Nahúm Palacios Arteaga in the city of Tocoa on Sunday, the third deadly attack against the Honduran press in the last two weeks, according to news reports. Honduran authorities must put an end to the wave of deadly violence and ensure that the killers are punished, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“We condemn the murder of Nahúm Palacios Arteaga and urge authorities to swiftly bring those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Rising violence is seriously limiting crime coverage while depriving Honduran citizens of critical information on the country’s security.”

Palacios, 34, a journalist for Channel 5 TV and Radio Tocoa in the Atlantic region, was driving home when two cars pulled alongside his vehicle at about 10:30 p.m., the local press said. At least two unidentified individuals fired several times, according to the Honduran press. The journalist died at the scene, while a companion seated next to him was severely wounded, news reports said.

Local police told the news media that the gunmen used AK-47 assault rifles, a weapon regularly used by Honduran criminal groups. Authorities have not disclosed possible motives.

Palacios had reported on drug trafficking, violence, local politics, and an agrarian conflict between landowners and peasants in the Aguán region, according to Meri Agurcia, a researcher for the local human rights group Comité de Familiares Detenidos-Desaparecidos en Honduras. Palacios had received recent, anonymous death threats, according to the Honduran press and CPJ sources. 

In June 2009, Palacios had been threatened by members of the military for his critical coverage of the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, according to Agurcia and local news reports. The journalist’s home and office were raided and his equipment confiscated in an effort to intimidate him, press reports said.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, urged the Honduran government in July 2009 to provide protection for Palacios based on the threats and harassment, local press reports said. Honduran authorities, however, didn’t implement the measures recommended by IACHR. In a press release issued today, the Inter-American Commission said it deeply regretted the murder and noted the Honduran government’s failure to carry out measures to protect Palacios.

Organized crime has made the country’s Atlantic region an extremely dangerous place for the press, sources told CPJ. On March 11, radio reporter David Meza was murdered in the city of La Ceiba, also in the Atlantic coast, under similar circumstances. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office told CPJ today that the police are looking at the journalist’s work as a possible motive.

A third Honduran reporter was also killed this month. On March 1, reporter Joseph Hernández Ochoa was slain in Tegucigalpa in a shooting that left another journalist seriously wounded. CPJ is investigating whether the killings are linked to the journalists’ work.