Radio journalist gunned down in Honduras

New York, December 7, 2011–Honduran journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos was shot and killed in the capital Tegucigalpa on Tuesday, according to local news reports. Delmer Osmar Canales Gutiérrez, a cousin who worked as her driver, was also killed in the attack. Investigators are looking into several possible motives, including Paz’s journalism.

“We are deeply troubled by the murder of journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos and her driver Delmer Osmar Canales Gutiérrez. Honduran journalists continue to be killed with impunity, and the government’s failure to guarantee minimal safety is fostering a climate of lawlessness that is seriously restricting the work of the press,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge the administration of President Porfirio Lobo to put an end to this wave of violence by bringing journalists’ murderers to justice.”

Paz and Canales were driving near the journalist’s home on Tuesday morning when unidentified gunmen on motorcycles fired on the car at least 37 times, according to the Associated Press. Press reports said that at the time of her death, Paz was testing a car she was considering buying from army Colonel Marco Tulio Leiva.

Paz, 38, was the host of the morning news program “3 en la noticia” (Three on the News) on the Honduran News Network radio station. Previously, she had worked for Radio Globo, a radio station known for its criticism of the 2009 ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya, news reports said.

Authorities said they were investigating several potential motives for the attack. Héctor Iván Mejía, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Security, told reporters that investigators would look into whether Canales had any personal problems and were also considering an attempted carjacking as possibilities, despite reports that the car was fired upon dozens of times. Mejía also said “another question is the journalistic work.” Officials are additionally looking into reports that the journalist had received threats related to her refusal to cooperate with criminals trying to extort money from a small business she ran, but no other details were available.

Earlier this week, the offices of a leading Honduran daily, La Tribuna, were shot at; a security guard was seriously wounded in the attack. The newspaper had published a statement the previous month saying its staff had been targeted with attempted shootings, threats, and harassment in reprisal for critical reporting. Twelve Honduran journalists have been murdered since March 2010, at least three in direct reprisal for their work. A 2010 CPJ special report found a pattern of botched and negligent investigative work into the killings.