Radio station director killed in Guatemala, renewing calls for protection mechanism for journalists

Guatemalan journalists have condemned the murder of a 32-year-old radio director in the country and called for renewed attention to the construction of a protection program for journalists.

Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, director of Estéreo Azúcar in Asunción Mita in the department of Jutiapa, was killed on March 17.

The journalist was inside his vehicle waiting for change after purchasing a coconut when he was killed, according to the Center for Informative Reports of Guatemala, known as CERIGUA. Salazar Barahona, who had worked in journalism for more than ten years, was returning from meetings at radio Estereo Solar in the department’s capital, the organization said.

Police investigators hypothesized that hitmen were following Salazar, according to Prensa Libre. A motive for the murder has not been given.

UNESCO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OACNUDH) condemned the attack on the journalist and said the that situation of human rights defenders and journalists in the country “is cause for concern.”

The organizations said “we reaffirm the absolute need to develop a comprehensive public policy for protection of defenders of human rights, including journalists, to enable them to carry out their work in an environment where their security and integrity are guaranteed.”

On the website of Azúcar 99.9 FM, the following message was written: “We deplore the death of our friend and journalist Mario Salazar, director of Azucar 99.9 FM. We extend our sincere condolences to family, friends and coworkers. Rest in peace Mario Salazar.”

CERIGUA also expressed concern that the Protection Program for Journalists has been stalled.

In February, 16 organizations submitted a letter claiming that journalists were excluded from contributing to a document that would become the basis for the creation and implementation of a protection mechanism for journalists.

CERIGUA said that four journalists have been killed in the last two years and called for the process of building the program to be re-launched.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) recently released a report on the situation of human rights in Guatemala and took a special look at freedom of expression in the country.

Noting recent murders of journalists, as well as attacks “where those responsible have been both organized crime as well as political leaders and local state authorities,” the organization said “This context generates an atmosphere of intimidation against the press with the consequent inhibitory effect and self-censorship among journalists.”

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.