Guatemalan journalists under investigation
#NoNosCallarán— Accion Ciudadana TI Guatemala (@AcGuatemala) March 1, 2023
🔴 Nos unimos a las muestras de solidaridad con todas las y los periodistas que están siendo criminalizados, reprimiendo el derecho a informar y a la libre expresión. Artículo 35 de la Constitución Política de Guatemala. pic.twitter.com/EXeD2g3rze
On 28th February 2023, a Guatemalan judge ordered an investigation into nine columnists and employees of elPeriódico newspaper at the request of public prosecutor Cinthya Monterroso. The order was handed down as part of a new criminal case against the outlet’s owner, journalist José Rubén Zamora. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Zamora was arrested in July 2022 under accusations of influence peddling, extortion and money laundering. In the new case, Zamora is accused of ‘conspiracy to obstruct justice.’
During the public hearing against Zamora, prosecutors made a series of accusations against press workers as well as civil society group Acción Ciudadana TI, a local chapter of Transparency International. The president of the international organisation, Delia Ferreira Rubio, commented:
These prosecutions are a blatant attempt to shut down the people shining a light on corruption. We place our full support behind Acción Ciudadana, all of those fighting against corruption in Guatemala, and the universal rights to free speech and access to information. - Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International.
Civil society organisations in the coalition Alianza por las Reformas (Alliance for the Reforms) called this investigation an “attempt to silence independent press, which is one of the last bastions of democracy.” In March 2023, a presidential candidate who criticised these criminal proceedings and filed a complaint against the judge who ordered them was also accused of obstructing justice.
On 29th March 2023, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement expressing concern about the investigation. The office said that “the simple fact of opening a criminal investigation against the press as a result of various publications of public interest has severe consequences for the right of reporters to inform, and the right of society to be informed.” The statement also highlighted information about self-censorship among journalists in Guatemala, and underscored reports that at least six journalists had forcibly left the country.
Journalist killed in Villa Canales
#Guatemala🇬🇹: asesinaron al periodista Eduardo Fernando Mendizabal Gálvez— FIP - América Latina y El Caribe (@FIP_AL) March 22, 2023
La Federación Internacional de Periodistas repudia lo sucedido y demanda un pronto esclarecimiento. Para ello es imprescindible que se contemple su labor periodística como posible motivo para el crimen. pic.twitter.com/PTHEJYOOdY
On 18th March 2023, journalist Eduardo Fernando Mendizabal Gálvez was murdered in the municipality of Villa Canales, in the outskirts of Guatemala City. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Mendizabal was shot multiple times while driving in a vehicle. He was taken to a local hospital but did not survive. He was a community journalist and founder of local digital media outlet Visor de Villa Canales.
The International Federation of Journalists condemned the killing and called on the authorities to urgently investigate whether the murder could be connected to Mendizabal’s work as a community journalist. Authorities said they were pursuing several lines of investigation.
📢 #Thelma: "Los pueblos significamos una amenaza al #PactoDeCorruptos" → https://t.co/l6exWHf85J— Servindi (@Servindi) March 18, 2023
Afirma Thelma Cabrera, candidata indígena a la presidencia de #Guatemala que ha sido vetada por el @TSEGuatemala para participar en elecciones generales del 25 de junio de 2023. pic.twitter.com/jyCOCpx9Km
On 21st February 2023, thousands of people protested the electoral court’s decision not to allow Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera and former Ombudsperson Jordán Rodas to register for the June 2023 presidential elections. Protesters blocked at least 15 local highways, demanding that Cabrera be allowed to run. Demonstrations were held in front of multiple departmental offices of the electoral court, with people holding signs accusing the court of fraud and calling on magistrates to resign.
Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said the presidential ticket was barred “on dubious grounds” and that this decision threatens political rights and damages the credibility of the electoral process. Cabrera’s supporters continued to organise demonstrations in March 2023.
#Guatemala: UN Human Rights Chief @volker_turk worried over erosion of #RuleOfLaw as justice officials face ongoing reprisals, esp for investigating corruption & rights violations during armed conflict. Urges govt to uphold judiciary independence: https://t.co/Ie8UlJ8HOG— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) March 30, 2023
On 30th March 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, expressed concern about the continued judicial persecution of justice operators who worked with the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG). Days before this statement was issued, former prosecutor Orlando Salvador López was arrested on ‘abuse of authority’ charges, in the latest in a series of detentions of justice operators. López was best known for having brought to trial late dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt in 2013 for genocide committed against Indigenous Guatemalans.
Türk also warned about potential violations of the right to participate in public affairs, noting that candidacies of several presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the upcoming June elections had been rejected by election authorities. In particular, the High Commissioner mentioned the rejection of the presidential ticket of Thelma Cabrera and former Ombudsperson Jordán Rodas, and of Podemos candidate Roberto Arzú. Cabrera was the only Indigenous candidate running for president until the decision to disqualify her from the race.