Human rights defenders' work continues to be delegitimised in Guatemala
Two Supreme Electoral Court magistrates, Julio Solórzano and Jorge Mario Valenzuela, made public declarations on 26th June 2019 of their intention to take criminal action against people who have “cried election fraud without evidence”. On 28th June 2019, the Guatemalan Chamber of Journalism published a note condemning the statements and affirming that the magistrates’ intention is to restrict freedom of expression. According to the Chamber, this is not the first time that Solórzano and Valenzuela have tried to restrict freedom of expression - in the past they have attempted to control debates, interviews and forums during election campaigns. In the note, the Chamber also requested the country’s human rights prosecutor to initiate a process to publicly rebuke the magistrates, and asked the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights to take note of the episode and demand respect for freedom of expression from Guatemalan public servants.
In the Amnesty International report mentioned in the section on freedom of association, the organisation also concludes that in Guatemala freedom of expression is deteriorating. In particular, the report highlights the frequent threats and stigmatising of social media campaigns against judges, prosecutors and auditors. On 20th May 2019, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) published the brief "Bots, Netcenters and the fight against impunity, the case of Guatemala" on this particular topic, describing the use of ‘netcenters’ to conduct smear campaigns. CICIG analysed a set of messages that explicitly attack justice operators, social leaders, journalists, prosecutors and CICIG members. These messages use misinformation and systematic attacks to discredit individuals, seeking to also discredit and halt advances in investigations of corruption.
On 9th July 2019, Amnesty International published a report on Guatemala called "Last chance for justice", which describes the worrying situation of human rights defenders in the country. According to Amnesty’s analysis, over the past two years the highest Guatemalan authorities have taken a series of measures to halt the last decade’s advances in access to justice. In this period, human rights defenders faced continuous threats, stigmatisation, intimidation and attacks. Their work has been delegitimised, and the state has not guaranteed a safe environment for them. A key public policy providing guidelines on investigations of attacks against HDRs has remained pending for several months. As previously reported by the Monitor, instead of taking steps to protect civil society and human rights, Guatemala has approved restrictive amendments to legislation on freedom of association. Amnesty’s report states that the law on CSOs can lead to arbitrary closure of civil society organisations and may result in sanctions for activists.
Another report, launched in June 2019 by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), offers a detailed description of the situation of human rights defenders from January to December 2018. UDEFEGUA reported that there were 392 documented acts of aggression against HRDs in the country in 2018 - 61% of which targeted indigenous peoples and/or land rights activists. According to the report, 26 defenders were killed last year, with a further 18 attempts on HDRs' lives. This document also provides data substantiating the analysis that the work of human rights defenders has been delegitimised in Guatemala through defamation, stigmatisation, hate speech and unfounded judicial complaints. In 2018, UDEFAGUA registered 145 cases of criminalisation of HDRs' work, four more than in 2017.
On 24th July 2019, demonstrators used chains and locks to close all access to Guatemala’s Supreme Court. The group protested against alleged election fraud in the San Miguel Tucurú municipality, and demanded a re-run. They were led by Alba López, who ran as candidate for the FCN-Nación party in Tucurú. According to reports, some of the protesters sought confrontation and threatened to lynch journalists present. After almost two hours, the National Civil Police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse demonstrators and cut down the chains closing access to the building. As seen in the video below, some of the protesters ended up affected by the gas sprayed by the police.