I try not to talk on this blog too much about my work, but this is an urgent situation, and I decided to get the word out. In this case, we’re working with El Periodico to make their online edition using our CAMPSITE free, open source content management system.

What happened to Jose Ruben Zamora and his family must be condemned, and in the strongest ways possible. Justice will prevail.

Ambassador condemns press beating

The editor of an independent newspaper in Guatemala is recovering after an armed gang of 12 men forced its way into his home, held a gun to his head and beat his sons.

Jose Ruben Zamora says his attackers ‘wanted to send me some kind of message’.

The US Ambassador to Guatemala, John R Hamilton, described the attack as ‘violent and barbaric’, and has called on the country’s government to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.

According to Reuters, the armed assailants, posing as investigators from the public prosecutor’s office, forced their way into Zamora’s home.

They tied him and his family up, stripped and blindfolded him, kicked two of his sons in the chest and put a gun to his head and threatened him.

Reuters reports that members of the gang were carrying shotguns and apparently receiving orders by phone.

Ambassador Hamilton said the crime is a blow, not only to Zamora, but also to all journalists in Guatemala.

“It is an imperative and fundamental part of democracy that all journalists practice their profession free from threats, intimidation, and violence.

“Those who would crush freedom of speech will find that there are many brave voices, in addition to Zamora’s, who will continue to report in the newspapers, on radio and on television.

“Their persistence is the ultimate proof of the senselessness and futility of such cowardly aggression,” the Ambassador wrote.

Zamora’s newspaper, El Periódico, has been a constant thorn in the side of the government of President Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, continually highlighting alleged corruption by top officials.

In November 2002, government auditors moved into El Periódico’s offices to carry out an investigation following the publication of an article which linked the Portillo government with the mafia.

Zamora claimed it was benefiting from funds raised through trafficking in narcotics, kidnapping and extortion.

His report drew lines between the leaders of organised crime and some government and military heads.

Following that action by government auditors the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) wrote to President Portillo reminding him that it is the duty of the state to provide an environment in which journalists and publishers are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of harassment.

WAN said that such incidents foster a climate of apprehension that can inhibit journalistic investigation and promote self-censorship.

“We respectfully call on you to ensure that any campaign to discredit the independent press that might exist is immediately halted. We also urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that El Periódico, Mr Zamora and other members of the independent media are treated fairly by all members and departments of the government.

“We respectfully ask that you do your utmost to ensure that Guatemala fully respects its constitutional and international commitments to freedom of expression.” WAN wrote.

El Periodico is currently working on an online version of the newspaper which editor Zamora sees as ‘an insurance policy for press freedom’.

His view is that it will be harder to attempt to silence the independent newspaper if its words are being read globally, rather than just within the country borders of Guatemala.

El Periodico online is due to launch later this year.

By David Brewer in London

The following are links to various items and articles relevant to this story.

Ambassador Hamilton’s statement http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala/wwwhambspe200318.html

WAN’s letter to President Portillo following the surprise audit earlier this year
http://www.wan-press.info/pages/article.php3?id_article=679
Previous article on Poynter
http://poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=18176

Which was followed up by Editor & Publisher
http://www.editorandpublisher.com/editorandpublisher/features_columns/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1808857

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