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Inter American Press Association warns of mounting attacks on free press in Guatemala

MIAMI, Florida – The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) on Thursday warned of growing threats to journalists in Guatemala following an attack this week on a reporter that came just two weeks after another journalist was killed.

The Miami-based press association also denounced government-backed discrimination in advertising against the daily elPeriódico, a newspaper that often publishes stories about official corruption, rights abuses and drug trafficking.

IAPA condemned a Monday attack that left reporter Fredy Rodas seriously wounded in the face and back. IAPA called for an immediate investigation.

Earlier in August, Guatemalan radio journalist Luis Lima, 68, was killed while sitting in his automobile in front of Radio Sultana de Oriente, in the southeastern department of Zacapa.

Lima is the third journalist to be assassinated this year in the Central American country, which is facing an ongoing wave of violence that leaves 16 Guatemalans dead every day – one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.

IAPA also criticized “the practice of utilizing government publicity and apparent government coercion of private advertisers as an instrument to pressure editorial content,” according to the IAPA statement.

elPeriódico founder and President José Rubén Zamora also has spoken out about the atmosphere of violence and intimidation against journalists in Guatemala. Zamora, who was attacked in 2003, said that in retaliation for stories published in elPeriódico about government corruption, officials cancelled a personal security detail assigned to him following the 2003 attempt on his life.

IAPA blasted a paid ad printed in local Guatemalan media by the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina announcing that Zamora’s security detail would be withdrawn. The paid advertisement accused Zamora of “publishing false news” and “lacking proof against government officials.”

Claudio Paolillo, president of IAPA’s Commission on the Freedom of Press and Expression, accused Pérez Molina’s administration of taking a hypocritical position on the issue of press freedom and protection.

“The government cannot say it respects the freedom of the press and that it does not intimidate a newspaper when it is evident – and government officials have admitted this – that elPeriódico is being discriminated against with official publicity,” Paolillo said.

This step by the government is a serious threat to press freedom and the public right to information, as outlined in treaties and various national and international agreements, he added. 

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