Journalists continue to work in a hostile environment in Guatemala

Association

Guatemalan authorities are criminalising civil society organisations promoting land rights and environment protection, as well as indigenous leaders, in order to protect private and corporate interests. Despite these political pressures, a recent court decision shows that the judiciary is attempting to defend the right to association and peaceful assembly: on 22nd July, a court ordered the release of seven indigenous leaders who had been imprisoned for between one and three years for taking part in a peaceful protest opposing the development of energy projects in their territories. Although all the indigenous leaders were released, the majority of the court, found two of the leaders guilty of "obstruction of criminal action" and "coercion."

On 23rd June, human rights defender and a trade union member Brenda Marleni Estrada was shot dead while driving through Guatemala City. She was a prominent workers' rights advocate and daughter of a prominent judge who is actively involved in an investigation into labour rights issues in banana plantations. Ms. Estrada's killing is the latest in a string of murders and attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala in 2016.

In August 19th, eight armed men broke into the house of human rights defender Ramón Cadena while he was out of town and stole a computer. Ramón Cadena, is a well known lawyer who works to protect social activists and indigenous people working on environmental issues. 

Expression

As reported in the Monitor's last update, journalists continue to be at risk in Guatemala. On 25th June, journalist Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno, director of a community radio station, was killed in the city of Coatepeque. The radio journalist had been critical of local authorities and companies. 

According to a statement from the Association of Journalists from Guatemala, other journalists are being subjected to intimidation and harassment. Police officers detained journalist Walfredo Ovando and forced him to delete some photos concerning the detention of a peace judge. In addition, Elías Salazar from Nuevo Diario Journal, was injured in the chest by a rubber bullet while covering a series of protests on August 21st.

Due to the increased violence against journalists, regional organisation IFEX, sent a declaration to Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales denouncing the wave  of attacks against journalists since January 2016 when he became president.