Guatemala City, March 23, 2022 — Guatemalan authorities should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the killing of journalist Orlando Villanueva, determine if it was connected to his journalism, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On the afternoon of March 8, an unknown number of unidentified individuals shot and killed Villanueva in a public sports facility in Puerto Barrios, the capital of the Izabal department in eastern Guatemala, according to independent news website Soy502. Villanueva was the owner of and a reporter for Noticias del Puerto, a website and Facebook page that reports on local news and politics in Puerto Barrios, according to independent news website Prensa Comunitaria.
Journalists in Izabal have faced harassment from security forces and been criminally prosecuted in connection to their reporting on demonstrations and environmental issues, as CPJ has documented.
“Guatemalan authorities must conduct a credible investigation into the killing of journalist Orlando Villanueva and determine if it was linked to his reporting,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “The press must be able to report freely and safely in regions like the Izabal department, which has become an increasingly dangerous place for journalists covering environmental and social issues in recent years.”
A minor was also wounded in the incident and transported to a local hospital, according to Soy502. The Guatemalan national police opened an investigation into the killing, police spokesperson Jorge Aguilar told CPJ via messaging app.
Villanueva covered local politics and alleged corruption in Izabal, and Noticias del Puerto had recently published reporting about crime, security issues, and social protests in the area, according to CPJ’s review of its website.
On October 29, 2021, Villanueva said during a Facebook live that police and public prosecutors tried to enter his house by forcing the entrance door open after he reported police violence during a protest of miners.
The Guatemalan Association of Journalists, a local press advocacy group, told Prensa Comunitaria that Villanueva had alleged that he was intimidated by local prosecutors in Izabal, but the association did not provide any further details about the nature of the intimidation or the reasons for it.
CPJ’s emails to the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office did not receive a response.
At least six journalists have been killed in Guatemala in direct connection to their work since 1992, according to CPJ research.