Kidnapped Honduran radio news director found slain

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2012 6:27 PM
Kidnapped Honduran radio news director found slain

Honduras' president offered a reward of more than $150,000 Wednesday for information leading to the killers of one of the country's best-known journalists, and authorities later announced that a suspect was being questioned.

Security Ministry spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia declined to give any other details on the person detained in the investigation of the slaying of Alfredo Villatoro, whose body was found nearly a week after he had been kidnapped.

The announcement of the detention came after President Porifirio Lobo went on national television to offer a reward of 3 million lempiras, about $154,000.

"We are doing everything possible to get to the bottom of this and solve this crime," Lobo said.

Police found Villatoro's body Tuesday evening in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Villatoro, who was news director for HRN radio, one of Honduras' most important radio stations, had been shot in the head and was dressed in the uniform of an elite police force for unknown reasons.

The journalist was in civilian clothing when he was abducted May 9, Mejia said.

He said that when Villatoro was taken, kidnapping seemed to be the motive, "because if they had wanted to kill him, they would have done it from the outset." But no ransom request was received and the kidnapping could have been done for political reasons, he said.

"It's a direct challenge to the government," Mejia added. "Now we have to find out what message they are sending with these actions.

Mejia said he had been friends with Villatoro for at least 28 years, and local news media said the journalist was also close to Lobo.

Villatoro had presented a morning news broadcast for 20 years and was on his way to the station when he was kidnapped.

He hadn't been working on any investigative story, his colleagues said. Nahul Valladares, news editor at HRN, said the station has been careful when covering drug trafficking stories, the sort of topic that has led to attacks on other journalists.

The government human rights agency says 22 journalists have been killed in Honduras since the start of 2010 and many others have left the country after receiving treats.

Police found the body two hours after Lobo told reporters that Villatoro's family had received a video showing him alive. Lobo said Wednesday the family received the video Saturday.

The president met with news directors and the owners of media outlets to talk about the security situation.

"We're waiting for the government to offer the security guarantees that we journalists need. Measures that should have been taken a long time ago," said Amado Lopez, owner of the television station Channel 36.

Press groups urged the government to protect journalists.

"The deadly cycle of violence against journalists and impunity for these crimes is endangering freedom of expression in Honduras," said Joel Simon, executive director of New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.