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Reporters Without Borders has said it is increasingly concerned about press freedom in the Dominican Republic

Credit: Mihnea on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Dominican TV reporter José Agustín Silvestre was killed yesterday, according to local reports, bringing this year's death toll on journalists in Latin America to 20.

Silvestre's sister told local news outlet El Siglio 21 that he was beaten and kidnapped outside his house in La Romana by four men, who fired shots as they took him away at around 8am. According to Argentinian newspaper El Dia, his body was found an hour later in the village of El Penon, between La Romana and San Pedro de Macoris, with gunshot wounds to the head and abdomen.

Other Dominican news sites have published an image appearing to show Silvestre's body where it was discovered. Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has followed Silvestre's past struggles with the Dominican authorities, told this morning that it understood he had been killed but was not able to confirm whether the motive was related to his work as a journalist.

Silvestre, 59, was the host of Cana TV programme The Voice of Truth. He spent six days in prison in June, accused of slander and defamation after claiming on the programme that local prosecutor José Polanco Ramírez had links to drug trafficking.

According to RSF, shots were fired outside Silvestre's home hours after the programme was aired.

The judge initially ruled that Silvestre, also known as "Gajo", should be detained for three months while on trial, but the trial was delayed and he was released on bail of £1,627 (100,000 paesos) after six days in prison.

The Inter-American Press Society, a press freedom group working across Latin America, said in a report last month that the region had seen a significant deterioration in press freedom standards recently.

Robert Rivard, chairman of the society's committee on freedom of the press, said 2011 – with 19 deaths recorded at that point – had been "the most tragic year in the last two decades for the Latin American press".

The Dominican Republic currently stands 97th out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The press freedom rating assigned to the country by RSF has declined consistently over the past decade.

Benoit Hervieu, head of the Americas desk at RSF, told that the Dominican Republic had been "a little bit in the shadows" of countries like Mexico and Ecuador, where the death tolls are higher, but he said the island country was "the hidden face of drug trafficking" in Latin America and was becoming as increasing concern.

"The Dominican Republic is a platform for all kinds of trafficking. There is a strong tourist industry there, as well as a high level of corruption and infiltration of organised crime.

"So when there is conflict there involving the political powers, all the journalists reporting corruption and organised crime receive death threats."

Silvestre was one of those journalists, Hervieu said.

"He was a justice journalist, always denouncing corruption, with all the danger that goes along with that.

"You end up very exposed doing that in Latin America."

The reports of Silvestre's death follow the murder of Mexican crime reporter Yolanda Ordaz a week ago. Ordaz, who worked for regional newspaper Notiver, was discovered yesterday behind the offices of another local newspaper after being missing for 48 hours.

At the time of her disappearance Ordaz was reportedly investigating the murder of two other Notiver journalists in June, columnist Miguel Ángel López Velasco and his son Misael López Solana, a photographer for the paper, who were shot in their home alongside López's wife Agustina.

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