Land rights activist killed
Despite strong constitutional protections, civil society representatives report that freedom of association has recently been threatened in Guatemala, particularly in rural areas. On June 8th, Diego Choc Pop, a representative of Comité Campesino del Altiplano, was murdered. His murder came after a series of threats he received for his work on trying to protect farmers’ land rights. Three land rights activists were killed in previous months. On March 16th, 2016, Mauro Vay, leader of Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, a farmers’ organisation, was sentenced to three years in jail for allegedly promoting illegal power connections in his community. Vay’s lawyer reported that this sentence was imposed because of his client was campaigning for the nationalisation of the power company.
Demands for increased transparency in public life have been the main theme of protests in Guatemala following a corruption scandal involving former president Otto Perez Molina. Local civic groups report that recent protests conducted in Guatemala City were not obstructed and police successfully protected demonstrators. Protests have also taken place outside the capital in recent months. On May 11th, farmers demanding access to land and the nationalisation of natural resources blocked 29 of the country’s main roads. Again, no repression of these protests were reported.
In the first half of 2016 alone, at least 5 journalists from local and independent media were killed in Guatemala. On March 23rd, UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, condemned the murder of Guatemalan journalist Mario Roberto Salazar. On June 22nd, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) also warned about the dire situation facing journalists, and condemned the murder of journalists Victor Hugo Valdés and Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar. OMCT called upon the Guatemalan authorities to investigate these cases and to protect other journalists and civil society activists whose lives might be threatened.