People take a stand against corruption, protesting criminal code reform
On September 2017, police officers dispersed an anti-corruption protest with tear gas. People had gathered in front of the National Assembly to demand the resignation of members of the National Assembly who had supported reforming the Criminal Code that could prove detrimental to anti-corruption efforts. The director of the national police claimed that he had been attacked by a group of demonstrators during the protest. The Constitutional Court has thus far suspended the law, deeming it “a threat to the justice system”.
In a separate incident, on 24th August the Teachers' Union held a protest demanding that the government fulfill its commitments made several months before to those in teaching careers. Clashes between police and teachers were reported and at least ten teachers were arrested for reportedly showing aggression towards the police.
Guate! https://t.co/RPC61x155L— Fred Ramos (@_fredramos) September 17, 2017
In the past few months, there have been several documented cases of journalists and media outlets facing harassment and intimidation, at times in the form of physical threats. For example, journalist Julio Sicán was threatened by Cesar Jimenez, a member of the Health Workers Union, after the journalist published an article accusing Jimenez of sexual harassment.
Antonio Chitop and Alfonso Guarquer, reporters from Nuestro Diario, were attacked in the Quiche and Solola municipalities, respectively. Chitop was hit on his back while trying to interview a local mayor and the attacker also tried to take his camera. Guarquer was attacked while covering a protest of Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación de Guatemala.
In another incident, TV station Canal Antigua reported that a gun was shot by an unknown perpetrator at the office but no one was injured.
Voices critical of the government and its authorities have also faced persecution. On 26th August 2017, President Jimmy Morales declared Ivan Velásquez, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (ICIG), persona non-grata and ordered him to be expelled from the country. A few days later, on 29th August, the Constitutional Court ruled against Morales’ decision. Human Rights Watch stated that decision to force Velásquez to leave the country "came two days after Velásquez and Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana announced they were investigating the president’s party for illegal campaign financing and filed a petition with the courts to lift the president’s immunity”.
The Journalists Association of Guatemala reported that freedom of expression was undermined in the case of the government's attempt to expel Ivan Velasquez from the country. In addition, the Association reported that the media outlet Guatevisión was blocked in a few regions of the country while attempting to reporting on the case.
In statement, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reminded the government of Guatemala:
“[T]hat a declaration of persona non grata must be made exceptionally and never as justification for carrying out a summary expulsion in response to work defending human rights. In this regard, the IACHR has emphatically stated that any process that could affect the rights of an individual must respect due process guarantees so that the person can defend his or herself adequately in the event of any act of the State, including the right to judicial review that can suspend the action”.
On 6th September 2017, a judge ordered a trial to proceed against Aura Margarita Valenzuela, Mariela Alvarez Sucup and Maria Magdalena Zarat Cuzán. The three activists were arrested on 3rd March 2017 when they tried to advocate for a group of families being evicted from land that had been claimed by a private company. They face charges of resisting arrest and usurpation.