Nicolás Humberto García

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Unidentified assailants killed Nicolás Humberto García, the director of a community radio station in Ahuachapán state, El Salvador, on March 10, 2016, according to news reports.

García, who directed the community radio station Expressa in the municipality of Tacuba, was killed around 7:30 p.m. in the nearby town of El Carrizal, according to a news reports. Tacuba police told CPJ that his body was found that same night bearing signs of abuse. He had been disfigured, and suffered machete and bullet wounds, the police said.

García, 23, had been working in community radio since he was 13, when he joined a local youth anti-violence program. He had been working in a leadership role in the radio station since at least 2013, a colleague of García, who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, told CPJ.

Angélica Cárcamo, education coordinator of the Association for Radio and Participatory Programs (ARPAS), who had known García for five years, told CPJ that Expressa’s programming included a variety of topics, including music, human rights, religion, and anti-violence programming. Expressa is one of seven community radio stations in the area.

After the killing, ARPAS and two other prominent Salvadoran journalist organizations released a joint statement condemning the killing. The groups said they believed the murder was linked to García’s work at the radio station.

Violence between criminal groups has made El Salvador the murder capital of the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone, according to press reports. Homicides spiked after a truce between the dominant rival youth gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 broke down in 2014.

Local journalists and police officers who spoke with CPJ described Tacuba as a municipality deeply affected by gang violence. Police told CPJ that El Carrizal, where García lived, is mostly controlled by MS-13, but that neighboring towns are dominated by Barrio 18.

Cárcamo said that she believed there were three motives behind García’s murder, and all were in retaliation for his work in the radio. She said that García had refused to be recruited by the gangs, had banned criminals from using the radio to broadcast, and had granted police space on the radio as part of a violence-prevention program. She added that García was a target for recruitment because of his age, but also as a result of his prominent position in the radio and in the community.

Cárcamo said that she had seen García only five days before the killing and she didn’t know of any threats at that time. After his death, she was told by local colleagues that in fact García received death threats weeks before the murder.

His colleague who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to CPJ that García was threatened two weeks before his murder. “The threats were related to his program on youth violence prevention,” he said. At the time of the killing, García was directing the radio by himself, his colleague said. García had banned several people from participating in his programs because of their links with criminals.

Local police said there may be another reason for his killing. Pedro Antonio Alas, head of the Tacuba police, told CPJ that he believed García may have been killed for his friendship with the local leader of the Barrio 18 gang, involved in community radio in a neighboring town. Alas said that García was not a gang member, but speculated that members of MS-13 — the rival gang — could have killed García in retaliation. Alas did not discount the possibility that Garcías was killed for not allowing gang members to use the radio station.

Serafín Valencia, the director of the Association of Salvadoran Journalists, told CPJ that journalists and activists who work for community radio are often vulnerable to threats from criminal groups and local politicians, who have been linked at times with organized crime.

On October 21, the attorney general’s office announced that four gang members involved in the killing of Humberto García were sentenced to 20 years in prison each, according to reports on local news sites. A representative of the attorney general’s office told CPJ that the journalist was killed for refusing to join a gang.