Miami (December 12, 2022) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that institutional fragility in Guatemala conspires against press freedom, independent journalism, and democracy. After sending an international delegation to the Central American country last week, the continental entity said that the weakness in the functioning of institutions is expressed in the lack of independence of public powers.

The main topic was to participate in the judicial hearing that analyzed the case of journalist and president of elPeriódico, José Rubén Zamora, and to visit him in prison, where he has been held for more than four months. In addition, the IAPA expressed in harsh terms on other issues denounced by communicators, media directors, press associations, and representatives of Guatemalan civil society institutions.

The IAPA delegation has its president, Michael Greenspon; Carlos Jornet, chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information; and Ricardo Trotti, executive director. At a press conference at the end of the visit, the IAPA delegates said: "We are concerned about the pressure against freedom of the press and independent journalism, knowing that this is one of the last fortresses for safeguarding pluralism and citizen debate in the country."

They claimed that, as indicated by the Chapultepec Index 2022 -which ranks Guatemala as the fourth worst country among the 22 evaluated, after Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela- "this country is not only losing press freedom but also democracy."

The delegation emphatically demanded to the country's authorities and the Public Ministry that "the government must put an end to legal and judicial harassment, in some cases by using laws such as gender equity." It must also stop using net centers to attack the credibility of journalism in social networks and cease its pressures on journalists to reveal their sources when reporting corruption issues.

The delegates urged the government not to limit sources of information and to give broad access to public information, as well as demanded that cases of aggression and crimes against journalists that remain unpunished be investigated. They also demanded that the government not discriminate against the media and stop pressuring businesspersons not to advertise in critical and independent media.

Regarding the Zamora case, the IAPA said that the accusation's characteristics and the irregularities denounced to build the case generate concern that there is an attempt to mount proceedings against other journalists investigating the government. Furthermore, the delegates warned that the Justice had ignored the multiple anomalies registered in the case investigation stage.

"If Justice does not act with independence and is only an instrument of other powers, it will end up inducing self-censorship in other media and journalists who investigate power," said the delegates, particularly among small media and more vulnerable to pressures. Furthermore, the IAPA denounced the increase in criminalization and prosecution of journalists and community media and that there is fear for physical safety due to frequent threats to those who condemn the advance of organized crime due to the cooperation of drug criminals with local authorities and police forces.

In the departments, especially in places far from urban areas, there is an absence of the State, which was the complaint heard during the mission.

"We presented the critical panorama we gathered from journalists and media executives to officials from the executive branch and the Public Prosecutor's Office," said Greenspon, Global Head, NYT Licensing & Print Innovation, The New York Times Company, New York, United States.

During the preparatory meetings for this mission, the IAPA also denounced "The adverse conditions faced by journalists, due to the systematic attacks by public officials and unofficial net centers who, often from anonymity, unload on social networks and websites permanent disqualifications that sometimes encourage physical violence." Greenspon assured that the IAPA called for a halt to using net centers financed with public and private resources to attack and threaten journalists, opposition politicians, and citizens who question the State.

In the case of Zamora, the IAPA reiterated its support and commitment to demand that the authorities respect all the conditions for due process. Furthermore, the IAPA requested more flexibility about the detention conditions and respect for preserving the free exercise of journalism for the elPeriódico team.

The IAPA clarified that it "did not come to Guatemala to play politics," as an attorney, Raúl Falla Ovalle, of the Foundation against Terrorism (FCT, in Spanish), accused the organization during the judicial hearing in the Zamora case. "The IAPA's visit was to demand due process," the delegates clarified.

Regarding this matter, the organization received detailed reports from members of the Presidential Commission for Peace and Human Rights (COPADEH), Attorney General Consuelo Porras, and her team of collaborators. They all assured that the process follows the law and that they act guided only by principles of objectivity, impartiality, and legality.

In this regard, the IAPA said it would be attentive to the presentation of evidence in the case, scheduled for December 13, after Judge Fredy Orellana decided to initiate the process against Zamora.

The mission to Guatemala took place on December 8 and 9. During two days of intense meetings, the delegation was able to appreciate disparate and, in many cases, opposed views on the environment in which journalism is practiced in the country.

The contacts included the Vice President of the Republic, Guillermo Castillo Reyes; officials from different levels and areas of government; representatives of the Constitutional Court; the U.S. Ambassador, William Popp, and members of his diplomatic team; business people; the president of the Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Gonzalo de Villa, and media colleagues from all over the country.

The IAPA delegation attended the opening of the judicial hearing in Zamora's case on December 8 and visited him on December 9 at the Mariscal Zavala prison to verify in situ the conditions of his detention, propose a possible house arrest and insist that in the meantime the visiting regime be extended.

In the last 27 years, the IAPA sent international delegations to Guatemala on ten occasions: 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 on three occasions, 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2015. It also held the historic hemispheric conference on Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists in 1997, and the country hosted three biannual IAPA meetings in 1994, 2004, and 2017.

Detail of meetings

IAPA delegates met with Guillermo Castillo Reyes, vice president of Guatemala; María Consuelo Porras Argueta, the attorney general of the Republic and head of the Public Prosecutor's Office; Ramiro Alejandro Contreras Escobar, executive director of the Presidential Commission for Peace and Human Rights (COPADEH); Lesther Castellanos Rodas, rapporteur of the National Office for the Prevention of Torture.

In the meeting with the Public Prosecutor's Office, in addition to the attorney general, the following participated: Ángel Pineda Ávila, secretary general; Erick Eduardo Schaeffer Cabrera, first deputy secretary general; José Rafael Curruchiche, section prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI); Cinthia Monterroso, the prosecutor handling the Zamora case; Edgar Rolando Rodenas Navarro, section prosecutor in charge of the Prosecution of Crimes Against Journalists, and Juan Luis Pantaleón, head of Information and Press.

In addition, present at the meeting with COPADEH were Joaquín Flores, director of the Penitentiary System, and Kevin López, secretary of Social Communication of the Presidency, among others.

The IAPA also met with William Popp, U.S. Ambassador to the U.S., and officials from the offices of Public Affairs. Gonzalo de Villa, president of the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala; Alejandro Córdova, Human Rights Ombudsman; Roberto Molina Barreto, magistrate of the Constitutional Court; Luis Fernando Leal, first vice-president, Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF); Gonzalo Marroquín, director of Crónica magazine; Mario Alejandro Sandoval and Christian Blank, Prensa Libre; and Ramón Zamora, head of elPeriódico.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.