Civil society reports staggering number of attacks against activists in 2017, with 53 HRDs killed

Association

Maria Magdalena Cuc Choc, whose arrest on 17th January was reported in the last update, was released on bail on 19th January. She was asked to pay a 5,000 quetzales fine (700 USD) and was banned from leaving the region of Izabal where she resides. In addition, her family members and relatives reported being criminalised for their legitimate activities to protect the environment and land rights in Izabal.

In a separate incident, several civil society organisations expressed concern over acts of intimidation against the country's Ombudsman as there have been attempts to dismiss him from office. According to reports, the state's legislature - the National Congress - summoned the Ombudsman for questioning after he participated in a march on International Women's Day. Allegedly his participation in the march was rebuked as an act "against the expressions of the Catholic religion". The  Episcopal Conference of Guatemala, however, condemned the government's "manipulation of the facts to promote the dismissal of the Ombudsman". 

In another development, Sonia Elizabeth Montes, a prosecutor of the Human Rights Division within the Prosecutor’s Office, was a victim of an armed attack on 15th February. Fortunately, Montes and her driver were not injured after their car was shot at several times. She leads the investigations into the criminalisation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and cases of human rights violations committed by the authorities.

Unidad de Protección a Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (an NGO for the protection and defence of human rights in Guatemala) reported that in 2017, there were 483 documented acts of aggression against HRDs in the country - 211 of which were committed against women defenders. The NGO also reported that 53 defenders were killed last year. 

On 8th March, the National Assembly announced that draft law 5257, which would increase regulations on NGOs in the country, would be revised based on input from outside actors and stakeholders. The bill will still include oversight of NGO activities and organisations that receive state support will have to register with the Comptroller's Office. All NGOs regardless of funding sources will be asked to register with the national tax office, even if the organisation is tax exempt.  

Expression

It was reported that Laurent Castillo Cifuentes, a journalist from Nuestro Diario and Luis Alfredo de Leon Miranda, a publicist from radio Coaltepec, were found dead at the beginning of February 2018 in the region of Suchitepéquez. They were in the region covering a local carnival celebration that took place days before. There were reports that one of the journalists had been blackmailed. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed "its grave concern over this aberrant crime and urges the Guatemalan authorities to act promptly and diligently to establish whether it was related to the practice of journalism, and to identify and punish the perpetrators".

On 28th February, the Inter-American Press Association expressed its concern over a new draft law in Guatemala that broadens the definition of terrorism and could potentially restrict freedom of expression. Article 22 of the proposed law states that the person who uses media or communication technologies with the intention to instigate fear or alarm could face 10 to 20 years in prison. 

It was reported that on 21st January, two unidentified men bought all the printed editions of La Prensa in the region of Peten to prevent citizens from accessing information on the arrest of two colleagues close to a political leader in the region who face corruption charges. Some local residents reported that this was not the first time that distribution had been disrupted due to the publication containing coverage of or reports on this particular politician.