One media executive killed in Honduras, another wounded

New York, May 25, 2011– In two recent shooting attacks, a Honduran media owner has been killed and a newspaper manager wounded. Honduras authorities must put an end to the record level of violence against the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.   

“We call on Honduran authorities to thoroughly investigate these vicious attacks and establish what the motives were,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “The wave of violence in Honduras is seriously restricting freedom of expression.”

On Friday, around 7 a.m., three hooded men armed with AK-47s shot and killed Luis Ernesto Mendoza Cerrato in the city of Danlí, El Paraíso province, the Honduran press said. Mendoza, 39, a well-known local businessman who owned Channel 24 television station, had just arrived at the broadcaster’s facilities when he was gunned down by at least three unidentified assailants, according to the local press.

Mendoza was shot multiple times and died instantly, the press said. Police believe it was a contract killing, although they didn’t give any details of the investigation. In addition to owning Channel 24, Mendoza had investments in real estate and in the coffee and agricultural industries.

In a second attack on Monday, unknown gunmen shot and wounded Manuel Acosta Medina, the general manager of a Honduran newspaper, as he was driving home in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, according to press reports.

Acosta, 70, of the Tegucigalpa-based daily La Tribuna, was driving home back from the newspaper around 5:30 p.m. when the attack occurred, the local press said. Acosta was driving slowly when he saw three gunmen descending from two vehicles, La Tribuna wrote in an article. The paper’s executive then sped up but the gunmen opened fire multiple times, wounding Acosta, local press said.

Four bullets lodged in Acosta’s body–in both his shoulders, his leg and his chin, La Tribuna reported. Despite his pain, he drove himself home. Family members later took him to a local hospital where he is now recovering and in stable condition, the Associated Press said. His car had more than 30 bullet holes, according to local police.

Acosta had not received any threats, and was described by his paper as not a particularly political person but rather as a man dedicated to his work above all.

On Tuesday, Honduran police announced the detention of five alleged suspects in the Acosta case, the daily La Prensa says. Investigators are looking into all of the suspects’ three possible motives– robbery, kidnapping or an assassination attempt– according to the local press.  

CPJ has recorded a string of recent attacks on journalists throughout the country. Provincial television journalist Héctor Francisco Medina Polanco was gunned down on May 11 in the northern province of Yoro. In April, director of San Pedro Sula-based Radio Uno Arnulfo Aguilar was ambushed by a group of armed men outside his home. In March, at least seven journalists, all covering the around a month-long teachers’ protest faced harassment, attack, and detention, CPJ reports. Earlier that month, Radio Voz de Zacate Grande director Fanklin Mendez was shot in the leg over the station’s critical coverage of land disputes in the area. 

Eleven Honduran journalists, including media owner Mendoza Cerrato, have been murdered since March 2010, at least three in direct reprisals for their work, CPJ research shows. A 2010 a CPJ special report found a pattern of botched and negligent investigative work into the killings.

Kelsin Arteaga, spokesman for the national police, has said that the majority of the killings have no relation to journalism, the Associated Press said. “The police’s denial that the recent spate of killings has anything to do with journalism shows Honduran authorities have failed deplorably in investigating these crimes,” said Lauría. “Instead of making unsubstantiated claims, officials should focus on solving these crimes.”