MIAMI — Journalists in Latin America are suffering through their "most tragic year in two decades," with 19 reporters murdered in nine nations so far in 2011, the Inter-American Press Association said Friday.
Restrictions on the media in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala have also contributed to the deterioration of freedom of the press in the region, the Miami-based group said.
"In seven months, journalists from nine countries have been killed. This is the most tragic year in the last two decades for the Latin American press," the head of the association's press freedom committee Robert Rivard told reporters.
The IAPA said it had recorded five journalist murders in Mexico, four in Brazil, four in Honduras and one each in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
Another Mexican reporter has gone missing, Rivard said.
Violence by organized crime and the legal harassment of independent journalists and the news media have made the situation worse, the IAPA said.
The press association singled out Ecuador, calling on the government of President Rafael Correa to "cease persecution of the press" and withdraw a lawsuit against the daily El Universo.
Executives at the newspaper were sentenced last week to three years in prison on libel charges and ordered to pay $40 million in damages to Correa.
"President Rafael Correa is trying to take away our editorial independence," said El Universo publisher Carlos Perez, one of those found guilty.
The IAPA also said "judicial harassment" was used in Brazil, El Salvador, Paraguay and Venezuela, where journalists and news media have been censored and fined.
Cuba came in for special criticism, with the group saying it remains the "most restrictive" country in terms of press freedom in the hemisphere where "independent journalists are still hounded, arrested and temporarily jailed."
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