Guatemalan journalist threatened after corruption probe

New York, February 9, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the safety of Guatemalan television journalist Oscar de León, who has received multiple death threats and had his van shot at in the southwestern municipality of Quetzaltenango, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. De León, a correspondent for the private national Guatevisión TV network, said he has received the threats since he probed alleged police corruption.

“Guatemalan authorities must conduct a thorough investigation into ongoing threats against Oscar de León, and provide him with the necessary protection,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas program senior coordinator. “Journalists in Guatemala must be able to report on official corruption without fearing for their safety.”

De León said he has received daily anonymous threatening phone calls and text messages since January 13. He told CPJ on Tuesday that the threatening messages, which come from blocked or unregistered numbers, have made reference to his work and included threats to family members.

On January 29, unidentified assailants fired at de León’s van three times as he and members of his family were driving home. No one was injured and only one bullet grazed the van, which de León usually uses for work, he said.

De León said he believes the shooting and threats are related to his investigation into allegations of corruption against the city’s transit police chief, Manuel Adolfo Blanco. Quetzaltenango-based daily El Quetzalteco quoted Blanco denying accusations of corruption. Blanco’s contract with the transit police, which expired on January 31, was not renewed, local news media reported.

On February 1, Guatevisión’s director, Haroldo Sánchez, said in a public statement that the network would hold Blanco responsible for any harm to de León, the reporter and local press group CERIGUA said. De León said he plans to appeal to the national authorities for protection. “I don’t trust the local police to protect me,” he told CPJ.