Report to the Midyear Meeting
April 4 – 7, 2014
In this period there were no murders of journalists, however the four committed last year continue to go unpunished. Press freedom and the practice of journalism, especially in the interior of the country, are facing threats by groups linked to organized crime and the illicit drug trade, pressures from local politicians, mayors and legislators aimed at censoring and harassing, and denial of access to public information by media and journalists regarded as critical.
An international IAPA mission traveled to Guatemala in February to consult with the country's leading authorities and civil associations, calling as a priority for the putting under way of the Journalist Protection Program.
The IAPA sought information about a conflict between President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti with José Rubén Zamora, president of the newspaper elPeriódico, questioning about the state of the criminal charges brought against the journalist. Acknowledged as a positive act was the fact that the President and Vice President withdrew those criminal charges against Zamora in January. What was discouraging, however, was the decision of the two that they will resort to the route that the Constitution and the Law on Emission of Thought establish, considering that public officials are more exposed to public scrutiny and criticism by the press.
In November President Pérez Molina filed a criminal lawsuit against Zamora charging coercion, extortion, violation of the Constitution and contempt of the presidents of government bodies. Meanwhile, Vice President Baldetti sued Zamora in the Feminicide and Other Forms of Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Treatment of Persons Criminal Court for psychological violence through his newspaper articles. The court ordered Zamora not to go near the Vice President's place of work, residence or studio.
The IAPA also called on the government to strengthen mechanisms of transparency and access to public information, as established in the law since its entry into force in 2009, and to create and ensure transparent and technical mechanisms for the distribution of official advertising. Along those lines the delegation expressed to the government its concern at the abrupt cut-off of official advertising to elPeriódico.
The IAPA also criticized the Executive Branch for having taken legal and administrative actions against elPeriódico with tax audits, considering them to be additional pressure to silence a critical voice.
The IAPA was surprised by statements by the president of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute, Juan de Dios Rodríguez, who in a radio broadcast urged "all the regulatory bodies" to act against Zamora. Rodríguez said, "There are alternative routes, penal routes, taxation routes, administrative routes and those of civil trials for damages. It is there that all our denunciations should go, so that no one comes and stamps on our honor."
The delegation criticized the monopoly of on-air televisions in the country, renewing its claim of years about the more decisive role that the government should play in restricting such practices. Prior to the IAPA mission Congress during a controversial session approved a system of 25-year extension of licenses, especially favoring the owner of four on-air channels, Ángel González.
In March the Public Prosecutor's Office for Human Rights (PDH) reported that 55.76% of the public and private institutions (693) did not provide their annual reports, as stipulated by the Law on Access to Public Information. The PDH announced that it will bring an action before the Public Prosecutor's Office and the General Accounting Office.
A report by the organization Informative Reports on Guatemala (CERIGUA) on the state of freedom of expression in 2013 delivered to the IAPA 57 documented attacks on the press, a figure higher than in previous years.
These are the most important developments in this period:
On March 6 elPeriódico journalist Pavel Vega reported that he was attacked by Radio Sonora reporter Raúl Morales. The attack took place at the door of the Presidential Palace after he attended a press conference given by President Otto Pérez.
On February 27 agents of the Public Prosecutor's Office and National Civil Police shut down the San José community radio in San Marcos. Its broadcast equipment was seized and a radio operator arrested and accused of incitement to crime and robbery.
On February 26 the departmental director of the Forensic Science Institute (INACIF), Luis Hernández de la Rosa, attacked several reporters in Huehuetenango as they were covering the delivery of a body to family members.
On February 25 residents of the town of Pequxul in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, attacked three journalists who were there to investigate the detention of four people. Ángel Martín Tax, Prensa Libre correspondent in Cobán, Otoniel Rivera, Al Día correspondent, and Erick Maas of CRN Noticias were ordered to erase all the material from their cameras.
On February 12 journalist Nery Morales, host of the program "Noticias y Más" (News And More) on channel Óptimo 23, suffered an attack from which he emerged unhurt. Two people riding a motorcycle in Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez, fired into his vehicle, without injuring him.
On January 9 Fernando Mollinedo, a columnist with the newspaper La Hora, was charged with the alleged crime of discriminating against agents of the Municipal Traffic Police of Guatemala City who felt offended by the language used in a column published on November 9, 2009.
On December 21 reporters Hugo Barrios of Nuestro Diario and Whitmer Barrera of Guatevisión were injured by stones hurled during a clash between residents of Ixchiguán and Tajumulco in San Marcos province.
On November 24 the editor of the newspaper elQuetzalteco, César Pérez Méndez, received a telephoned death threat in apparent reprisal for news coverage of corruption in Quetzaltenango.
On November 21 authorities raided the offices of community radio station Radio Damasco in San Pablo, San Marcos. It was stripped of the broadcast equipment and the radio's director, Víctor Ángel, was arrested.
On November 14 police officers fired teargas at some 28 journalists covering a notorious case involving Roberto Barreda, accused of feminicide, obstruction of justice and maltreatment of minors. In March 2014 a court accused two police officers of abuse of authority against the journalists.
On November 1 columnist Jorge Guillermo Lemus Alvarado reported that police officers beat him and planted false evidence in reprisal for his work as a journalist.
In November several reporters covering in court the extradition to Guatemala from Mexico of Roberto Barreda were sprayed with tear gas by National Police officers.