13 June 2012

IFEX members welcome rare conviction in journalist murder case

In a rare victory against impunity, a gang member who killed TV cameraman Alfredo Antonio Hurtado Núñez last year has been given 30 years in jail, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Jonathan Martínez Castro ("Budín") was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a San Salvador court on 31 May for the April 2011 murder of the Canal 33 cameraman. His alleged accomplice, Marlon Abrego Rivas ("Gato") is still on the run.

According to CPJ and RSF, Martínez and Abrego are members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a San Salvador criminal gang and main rival of Mara 18. Mara 18 was responsible for the murder of French documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda in September 2009, a year after they were featured as the subject of Poveda's documentary "La Vida Loca", says RSF.

RSF and CPJ welcomed the move. "We welcome this conviction as a rare blow against impunity, which sends a clear message to those who use violent means to silence journalists," said CPJ. "Authorities in El Salvador must now ensure the other gunman is brought to justice."

"El Salvador's very high crime rate has a direct impact on civil liberties, including the freedom to report news and information, said RSF. "The long sentence passed on Martínez sends a strong signal."

According to the members, the two gunmen shot Hurtado in Ilopango on 25 April 2011, allegedly because they believed he had identified another MS-13 gang member to the police as the perpetrator of a murder.

News accounts reported that the gang members suspected the journalist because of his coverage for Canal 33 of police operations against local gangs.

CPJ has found that journalists covering El Salvador's widespread gang violence often risk becoming targets themselves. In March, after the Salvadoran online magazine El Faro exposed a secret government deal with criminal gangs, a government official said El Faro journalists could be in danger for their reporting, but did not offer any protection.

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