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Journalists denounce Guatemala government hostility towards the press

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Hostility toward the press during COVID-19

On 12th April 2020, more than a hundred journalists from Guatemala published a public complaint denouncing repeated hostile behaviour from president Alejandro Giammattei and other public officials, through acts to intimidate, discredit and censor the press. The letter was a response to statements made on 11th April 2020 in a televised press conference, where Giammattei criticised news media and accused members of the press of insistently requesting sensitive information about people who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). On the same day, a journalist with Nómada magazine was removed from a WhatsApp group in which the Ministry of Health shares information on the pandemic.

In light of the journalists’ complaint, Guatemala’s Human Rights Prosecutor, Jordán Rodas Andrade, asked the government to maintain open, direct and continuous communication with the press during this sanitary emergency to guarantee the public’s right to information. Rodas said the authorities must share timely, reliable and quality data, including on the regions most affected, the number of tests conducted and the procurement of medication. On 14th April 2020, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) also urged Guatemala’s government to respect the work of the press and the public’s right to information, constitutional guarantees that have been restricted since the government adopted measures to respond to COVID-19. The organisation highlighted the importance of government transparency and access to information during this time of crisis.

Community journalists subjected to harassment and intimidation

On 11th March 2020, the civil society organisation IM-Defensoras reported that community news outlet Prensa Comunitaria and their women journalists were subjected to a smear campaign in conservative media and on social media for their coverage of the International Women’s Day march held on 8th March 2020 in Guatemala City. During the protests, Prensa Comunitaria showed images of street posters and graffiti on walls and public monuments. Their coverage led to accusations that Prensa Comunitaria reporters were responsible for the spraying and street poster campaign. Afterward, the community media and its reporters were exposed to debasement, insults, defamation and hate speech.

On 18th April 2020, journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc, of the Maya Q'eqchi people, had his house robbed and his work equipment stolen in El Estor, Izabal department. Ernesto Choc is a community correspondent for Prensa Comunitaria and has recently been working on reports of water scarcity in communities near the Estor municipality. Choc told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he believes the robbery was an attempt to intimidate him and stop his reporting on the water shortages. In the incident, the assailant took a camera, two cell phones and recording accessories but did not take any money or other valuables. The journalist filed complaints with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the National Police and the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor. Choc and other local journalists have faced criminal charges for their journalistic work since 2017.

Environmental journalists vulnerable in Guatemala

A report on freedom of the press in Guatemala, published by CPJ on 27th March 2020, says Giammattei’s administration must make a strong commitment to transparency and provide enough resources to combat impunity in attacks on the press if it means to reverse years of declining press freedom. The report also shows that journalists covering environmental issues in smaller cities and rural areas of Guatemala face a higher risk of being persecuted for their work. At least six journalists have been killed in the country in direct relation to their work since 1992.

Association

On 8th April 2020, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a resolution asking the State of Guatemala to strengthen security arrangements for three officials of the country’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption and Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Corrupción y al Impunidad - FECI). FECI is currently responsible for investigating cases of extrajudicial executions committed in the framework of the operation “Plan Gavilán”, in which police officers and soldiers were accused of such killings.