Freedom of expression and human rights defenders remain vulnerable in Guatemala


On 6th May 2019, Santiago Botón, a correspondent for Venezuelan channel Telesur, was harassed while filming a protest in Ixcán, El Quiché department. According to Botón, a group of thirty people threatened him, attempted to grab his camera and attacked him with a rope. Community news outlet Prensa Comunitaria reported that this was the third attack against Botón in three weeks.

On 14th May 2019, Guatemalan presidential candidate Sandra Torres withdrew a judicial complaint against a group of editors of independent newspaper El Periódico. On 9th May 2019, a Guatemalan court had ordered the newspaper to stop publishing any information on Torres due to a lawsuit under the country’s feminicide law. Torres initially justified the lawsuit, stating that the newspaper had made systematic attacks against her, spreading false information and using degrading names. However, the judicial order was widely condemned by press freedom advocates. The Inter American Press Association (IAPA ) stated that the measure responded “to a political strategy that seeks to censor and intimidate the media outlet”.

On 20th May 2019, the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala - CICIG) published a report on the use of social networks to spread false information, entitled "Bots, netcenters and the fight against impunity". The report describes the use of false accounts to intimidate and discredit journalists, as well as others involved in denouncing corruption in Guatemala. Using the information in the report, CICIG posed a number of open questions to be addressed by regulatory agencies in the future, including how to protect journalistic work in the face of these coordinated attacks.


While there have been some advances in improving the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala since 2017, these incipient efforts have not been enough to provide an effective response to the challenges faced by HRDs. This is the conclusion of the latest report of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala (OHCHR) on the situation of human rights defenders in the country, published on 21st May 2019. Of 196 defenders interviewed for the report, 86% said they had been threatened or attacked between 1st January 2017 and 1st May 2019; 58% said they had suffered multiple attacks. Attacks were reported from state and non-state actors, and the groups most vulnerable to violence were indigenous peoples, women HRDs, LGBTIQ community advocates, judges, journalists and independent lawyers, as well as those defending the rights of victims of the armed conflict of 1960-1996.