Impunity, the biggest threat to freedom of expression in the region, IFEX report says

In the last 20 years, 670 journalists have been killed in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to delegates from the IFEX-ACL alliance, which recently presented their Annual Report on Impunity 2013: "Faces and Traces of Freedom of Expression in Latin America and the Caribbean." The crimes -- most of which remain unsolved -- have turned impunity into the biggest threat to freedom of expression in the region.

The report of the regional IFEX alliance in Latin America and the Caribbean (ALC) analyzes the level of impunity in 11 countries in the region and summarizes the most relevant events and current context in each place in terms of impunity.

Mexico and Brazil were the countries with the most aggressions, while El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were named the riskiest countries for journalists.

With 225 attacks against journalists in the first nine months of 2013, Mexico has turned into the most violent country for the press in the continent in the last ten years. IFEX-ACL highlighted the case of journalist Armando Rodríguez, who was killed five years ago without any progress in the investigation.

The report also mentioned the 98 violations against media outlets in Brazil during the mass protests that began in June 2013. Seventy-one percent of these aggressions were committed by the police amd the most serious case was the attack on photographer Sergio Silva, who lost his sight on one eye after an officer fired a rubber bullet to his face.

Bolivia is living through a climate of violence against the press and freedom of expression. Some cases that illustrate the trend include an angry mob's lynching of journalist Carlos Quispe or the attack against journalist Fernando Vidal, who was set on fire by his assailants.

In Colombia, IFEX-ALC pointed out that 63 of the 142 investigations into the killings of journalists since 1967 have expired due to the country's statutes of limitations. Most of the attacks against the press come from drug traffickers, paramilitary groups and the guerrilla, and to a lesser degree from government officials and politicians. The report also highlighted the case of journalist Jineth Bedoya, who was kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused 13 years ago.

The report also mentioned the recently approved Communications Law of Ecuador and its impact on freedom of expression. Authorities and public officials are the main source of aggressions against journalists and actively seek to discredit those who oppose them. The Ecuadorian government controls directly more than 20 media outlets and is the biggest buyer of advertising in the country. Sixty percent of published information in the country is produced using official sources, the report said.

In Guatemala, violations against freedom of the press went from 19 in 2010 to 48 so far in 2013, which include four killings and eight death threats.

According to the report, Latin America is going through a crucial moment for freedom of expression. Depending on the place, journalists face threats from criminal groups or institutional weaknesses. Many countries are also going through controversial legal processes that could limit freedom of the press. Public officials continue to use defamation lawsuits to silence the press, and historically vulnerable sectors -- like indigenous groups -- remain unable to participate openly in public interest issues.

"A year after we published our report on impunity 2012, seeing that there have been no meaningful judicial improvements in general, and that many of the most emblematic cases remain unsolved, is very disheartening," this year's report said.

IFEX-ALC called on authorities in the region to push for thorough investigations based on their international human rights obligations.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.