Indigenous defender killed and others threatened and attacked in Guatemala

Association

On 15th June 2020, Indigenous land defender Medardo Alonzo Lucero was found dead with signs of torture in Olopa, Chiquimula department. The human rights defender belonged to the Maya Chorti'La Cumbre community and was active in their resistance against mining company Minera Cantera Los Manantiales which seeks to operate in their territory. Merdardo’s brother, Ovidio Alonzo, was also reportedly threatened after the killing. This is the second murder of an Indigenous defender in the Olopa municipality; in 2018, defender Elizandro Pérez was killed after several attacks. Local leaders have reported receiving multiple threats and being subjected to violent assaults and persecution by people associated with the mining company.

On 12th June 2020, the organisation IM-Defensoras denounced a defamation campaign against human rights defender Lolita Chávez on social media. She is a member of the K’iche peoples Council CPK and had publicly denounced the illegal detention of K’iche defenders after the government declared a state of siege in the Sololá department. In a video, Chávez also said the government had used the COVID-19 pandemic to repress communities, in particular Maya communities. As reported by IM-Defensoras, after the video’s publication there were posts on social media using montages with her photograph, insulting, defaming and accusing her of being a “terrorist”.

On 22nd May 2020, human rights defender and writer Tania Palencia was attacked and had her house raided and work equipment stolen in Guatemala City. Local organisations reported that two unidentified men violently broke into her home, physically assaulted her and stole personal belongings including her computer, mobile phone and cash. Palencia has a long trajectory as a rights defender and is currently a member of the Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (Centre for Legal Action in Human Rights - CALDH). Another person who was in her house was tied up by the attackers. Several local human rights organisations condemned the attack and demanded a prompt investigation.

Other developments

On 16th June 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a webinar on the situation of human rights defenders in the context of the pandemic. In the event, the General Coordinator of the Unidad de Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), Jorge Santos, stressed that during the pandemic the work of defending human rights has been hindered because Guatemala’s government does not view this as essential work. Santos said that attacks on human rights defenders had increased since March 2020 when the first measures against the pandemic were implemented, and that the government has used the pandemic to dismantle human rights institutions. UDEFEGUA registered 405 attacks against defenders and human rights organisations in the first five months of 2020, among which were cases of defamation campaigns, physical attacks, threats and judicial harassment.

Expression

On 11th June 2020, Indigenous journalist Francisco Chox was detained when documenting a territorial conflict between the Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán communities, Sololá department. As reported by CPJ, a group of protesters beat up the journalist, put ammunition in his bag and presented him to the police. He was then arrested for unlawful ammunition possession and held in pre-trial detention for a week. According to his lawyer, the protesters would have tried to incriminate Chox because he is a resident of their rival community. On 18th June 2020, a judge ordered his release after determining there was not enough evidence against him.

Expression during COVID-19

On 2nd May 2020, journalists’ association Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala (APG) released a report on the state of freedom of expression in the country. In the APG’s analysis, while there was some improvement with the change of government at the beginning of 2020, the situation again deteriorated with the COVID-19 crisis. The organisation highlighted that with the administrative change, smear campaigns against journalists, human rights defenders and civil society were significantly reduced. However, with the health emergency the government has acted to restrict access to information and public authorities have vilified the work of the press.

On 13th June 2020, Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordán Rodas Andrade, published a recommendation that the Ministry of Public Health comply with the country’s access to information law. In the statement, the Ombudsman said his office had received multiple complaints about the lack of response to information requests related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He asked that the Ministry respond to all requests for information, respecting the time limits established by law, and to create mechanisms which provide transparent information on COVID-19.