IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

In this period press freedom was harmed by the continuous climate of aggression against journalists, while at the same time there were produced anti-press legal and juridical actions.

The main juridical restriction occurred on March 16 when there began a new trial for genocide against former head of state José Efrain Ríos Montt and another general. The judge decided that this would be behind closed doors, with only the accused, their defense counsel, the victims and joint plaintiffs allowed in.

This action kept out the presence of the press at a trial of great national and international interest due to the importance of the accused and of the crime, violating the access that is guaranteed under Article 35 of the Constitution and the Law on Issuance of Thought.

In February 2016 the Constitutional Court sent to Congress its 69-point favorable opinion on the proposed amendment of the Electoral and Political Parties Law. These include regulating the maximum time of space in news media through a program of equal distribution of spaces, under the administration of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

News media would also be required to send to the TSE in the December before election year, a document listing fees that specifies the availability of spaces, a question that could be regarded as an interference in the news companies' right to free exercise of commerce.

The Constitutional Court also recognized a proposal to regulate electoral opinion polls. It rejected the electoral authority approving the questionnaires, certifying the technical relevance of the measurement instruments and giving official authorization. It recommended that the TSE be empowered to require rectifications regarding the published results, which would restrict the free practice of journalism.

The amendments are still being debated in Congress.

On March 10, at a meeting called by the Papal Nuncio, President Jimmy Morales seconded a plea by the representative of the Holy See for the ambassadors and representatives of international bodies accredited in the country to abstain from interfering in domestic affairs, in reference to the presence of them at trials and protests and to their opinions on political, legal, economic and governmental matters.

That day the Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the Diplomatic Corps with that request, which is interpreted as a constraint on the freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 35 of the Constitution.

On February 1 16 press organizations, headed by the Association of Journalists of Guatemala, the Guatemalan Journalism Chamber and the Professional Announcers of Guatemala Chamber, complained that they were excluded by the government from the technical roundtable that dealt with consultations and discussions within the process of creating a mechanism of protection for journalists.

Neither were the provincial press groups consulted, despite their being the country's most vulnerable.

The press groups demanded that the government recognize the rights guaranteed in the Constitution and in the Law on Issuance of Thought, and that when there are discussed steps to ensure the safety of journalists they be taken into account as the most interested parties.

Journalists continue to be exposed to threats, intimidation and physical aggression by public officials and organized crime. Frequently one learns of verbal or physical attacks on reporters, particularly in the provinces.

An example is the open threat issued by a prison guard who was watching over former vice president Roxana Baldetti during legal proceedings against her for alleged corruption in Villa Nueva. To send away the reporters trying to interview her the police officer raised his weapon and shouted, "Get out of there or there will be gunfire!"

That atmosphere worsened on March 17 with the murder of Mario Salazar, 32, director of the radio station Estéreo Azúcar in Asunción Meta, Jutiapa province. He was attacked by gunmen as he was driving his vehicle along the highway 73 miles from the border with El Salvador. That day he had traveled to that area to collect advertising revenue.