Land rights activists at risk of criminalisation in Guatemala

Association

In October, farmers' organisation the Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC) reported a series of events that could point to the beginning of a campaign to criminalise land rights activists. CUC reported that activist Digna Dalila Mérida was arrested on 24th September. She was later released when the judge hearing her case decided that the accusations against her were without merit. CUC members, including the head of the organisation Esteban Hermelindo Cux, have also been the target of attacks by criminal organisations. According to reports, at least 20 people with their faces covered arrived at his brother's home and began to shoot and throw rocks. Hermelindo Cux and his brother were verbally and physically attacked.

Following the constant stream of attacks against activists in Guatemala over recent months (as reported on the Monitor), the European Union expressed its support for Guatemalan activists and called for the authorities to conduct proper investigations.  

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th September, the Guatemalan government issued Decree 5/2016 which established a State of Emergency due to heavy rain in the country. The decree restricted some constitutional rights and stated demonstrations in vulnerable areas should be restricted and even prohibited when necessary. It also stated that strikes with political objectives should be banned. The decree attracted some criticism and two days later the the Government annulled it. 

In a separate incident, during a local community protest opposing the construction of a jail in Villa Nueva, protesters blocked the Pacific road and after an hour the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd in order to 'ensure people’s freedom of movement'. 

Expression

Media outlet Prensa Libre reported that the number of journalists murdered in 2016 has doubled in comparison to the number for 2015. The journalist unit at the government prosecution offices disputed these findings, stating that it had not been shown in all cases that the murders were connected to the journalists' work. In mid-October, Mario Sandoval, the Inter-American Press Association's (IAPA) representative in Guatemala, reported that there have been 76 cases of attacks and harassment against journalists so far in 2016.

A recent report by Guatemala's Ombudsperson revealed municipalities' lack of compliance with access to information legislation. The report showed that of the 17 municipalities in Guatemala, only one maintains updated information about public officers' salaries. Four municipalities don’t even have a website and two others were found to contain outdated information.