6 June 2012

Unprecedented arrests of suspects in journalist's murder

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and IFEX's member in Honduras Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre) welcomed the unprecedented arrests of 10 suspects linked to the kidnapping and murder of a radio reporter whose body was found last month.

Alfredo Villatoro, a director of HRN radio, one of the oldest broadcast stations in the country, had been blindfolded and shot twice in the head. His body, discovered on 15 May in a busy street near the capital, had been dressed in a police uniform.

Thousands of people had taken to the streets around the country to protest a wave of journalist killings in Honduras in the wake of Villatoro's brutal murder, reports RSF. He is the second reporter killed last month after journalist and gay rights activist Erick Martinez was murdered on 7 May, says C-Libre.

The IFEX members say more than 20 reporters have been killed in Honduras since a 2009 coup that ousted then President Manuel Zelaya. None of the murders have been solved.

In the face of growing protests and international condemnation, "the police and the national authorities have been prompted to act," says the "Guardian".

According to news reports, five suspects - two women and three men, aged 15 to 29 - were arrested last week. An AK47, rifles, handguns and bullets were recovered from their homes, and two cars, thought to be linked to the kidnapping, were seized.

This came days after three other arrests in connection with the kidnapping and murder, report the IFEX members. Two prison inmates are also being questioned after a call from a mobile phone traced back to the prison was made to Villatoro's family, says RSF. One of those arrested is allegedly a police officer, RSF says.

According to the "Guardian", in recent days the Honduran government also announced its intention to draw up an emergency national protection plan for journalists at risk. Justice Minister Ana Pineda said the plan was designed to "ensure adequate security to enable journalists to be able to work free from threats and intimidation."

Newspapers, too, have joined the call for action against the drug traffickers, criminal gangs and political forces that have created a climate of fear and intimidation for Honduran journalists since the coup.

On 28 May, "La Prensa", a leading Honduran daily, wrote a story headlined "Enough Already!" which demanded the right to "exercise our vocation and have the freedom to show Hondurans the reality as it is."

According to the UN, Honduras had the world's highest murder rate in 2011, with 86 homicides per year for every 100,000 inhabitants - which is roughly 20 times the murder rate in the U.S.

Perhaps signifying a shift in political will in Honduras, suspects have been arrested in two other cases, reports C-Libre. Former police officer David Lanza Valdez was arrested in connection with the August 2010 murder of journalist Israel Zelaya Díaz. And in Colón, Gabriel Menocal Vargas was arrested for the murder of journalist Fausto Elio Hernández, who was hacked to death with a machete in March.

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