New York, February 7, 2017–Guatemalan authorities should conduct a swift and credible investigation into the murders of a newspaper journalist and radio station worker, establish motives, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Sugarcane field workers on February 1 found the bodies of Laurent Ángel Castillo Cifuentes and Luis Alfredo de León Miranda in a field outside the town of Santo Domingo, in Guatemala’s southwestern Suchitepéquez deportment, according to news reports. The two journalists’ hands and feet were tied and both had gunshot wounds to their head, according to Guatemalan press freedom organization CERIGUA, which cited the Public Ministry, a government agency that includes public prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
“The murders of Laurent Ángel Castillo Cifuentes and Luis Alfredo de León Miranda only further chill the climate for press freedom in Guatemala, where journalists work with constant fear of intimidation and violence,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The Guatemalan government must conduct a comprehensive investigation into these killings, and must follow through on its promises to protect journalists and ensure they can work safely throughout the country.”
The Attorney General’s office in Suchitepéquez, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Public Ministry, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s calls and emailed requests for comment.
Officials with Guatemala’s Public Ministry said they had opened an investigation into Castillo and De León’s murder, but did not provide any more details, according to reports.
Castillo, 28, covered sports and culture for the newspaper Nuestro Diario, and was based out of the town of Coatepeque, in Quetzaltenango department, which borders Suchitepéquez, the newspaper’s regional editor Jorge Mario García told CPJ.
Castillo’s family members told reporters that he left his home on January 28 to cover a local carnival in Mazatenango, the capital of Suchitepéquez, but never returned. Castillo’s father said he last spoke with his son the morning of February 1, according to the reports.
De León, 30, a publicist for a local radio station, Coaltepec, was accompanying his friend to the carnival, news reports said.
According to the newspaper Prensa Libre, a source close to Castillo’s family said the journalist had recently changed his phone number after receiving threatening phone calls from people attempting to extort him, but that the family was not aware of any issues related to his reporting. Garcia told CPJ he did not believe Castillo had received any threats for his reporting.
Guatemala’s national Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordán Rodas, called for a swift investigation on Twitter and urged the government to implement the Protocol for the Protection of Journalists.
Guatemala’s president in 2013 promised to create a federal protection plan for journalists, but the government has yet to implement it.
Suchitepéquez and Quetzaltenango, near Guatemala’s border with Mexico, have historically been hotspots for drug trafficking and violence, according to CPJ research. Garcia told CPJ that journalists in the region engage in self-censorship and are often afraid to report on local issues because they fear retaliation and violence.
In 2015, two unidentified gunmen shot and killed Prensa Libre reporter Danilo Zapon Lopez and Radio Nuevo Mundo journalist Federico Salazar, while Lopez and Mundo were walking in a park in Mazatenango. Congressman Julio Juárez Ramírez was arrested in January 2018 and is currently on trial for allegedly ordering the killings. Juárez has denied any connection with the killings, according to the independent newspaper Prensa Libre.