Sugarcane field workers on February 1, 2018, found the bodies of newspaper reporter Laurent Ángel Castillo Cifuentes and his friend 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 men’s 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.
Officials with Guatemala’s Public Ministry said they had opened an investigation into Castillo and De León’s murders, but did not provide any more details, according to reports. The Attorney General’s office in Suchitepéquez, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Public Ministry, told CPJ in an email that a special unit of the Human Rights Attorney General’s office that oversees crimes against journalists was investigating the case.
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, Coatepec, was accompanying his friend to the carnival, news reports said.
According to the newspaper Prensa Libre, a source close to Castillo’s family whose name was not given 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, on Twitter called for a swift investigation into their murders 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.