Global Courant 2023-05-18 08:51:35
“Without freedom of the press there is no democracy.” That was the slogan of the press conference in charge of the International Mission on Press Freedom, in which representatives of nine international organizations presented the findings on press freedom in Guatemala, a situation of concern, mainly in the context electoral.
Nine organizations asked the Guatemalan authorities this Wednesday, May 17, to “respect and protect freedom of expression and of the press” during the June 25 elections, in which some 9.3 million people will be able to elect the president, vice president, 160 deputies to Congress, 20 to the Central American Parliament and 340 mayors for the period 2024-2028.
“(The situation) is extremely worrying not only for the right of journalists and communicators to inform, but mainly for the right of citizens to be informed to make decisions freely and consciously,” the organizations said in a statement.
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This statement, which they made after concluding a mission in the country, was signed by Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Free Press Unlimited Freedom House, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Fundamedios, IFEX -ALC, Protection International Mesoamerica, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Voces del Sur.
Leopoldo Maldonado, regional director of Article 19, pointed out that the situation of press freedom in Guatemala is worrying and assured that there are no security conditions “for a free, critical and robust exercise of journalism” and added that, among the results, He identified the self-censorship that “causes the flow of information to be cut off.”
Criminalization of journalists
During the conference, cases of persecution of journalists were also highlighted, the most recent of Jose Rubén Zamora and the closure of elPeriódico, a form of censorship that, as the representatives of the organizations affirmed, is not new and has intensified since the government of Jimmy Morales and the current administration of Alejandro Giammattei.
“In principle, we view with concern the criminalization of journalistic work that this surgical function has. It goes on very specific objectives, but by themselves they send a message that is disseminated to the rest of the journalistic union, ”he explained.
For Jerusha Burnham, of Freedom House, the closure of elPeriódico is seen as a threat. “If they can go after such a large medium, with a history of more than 20 years, it is an example to tell others that if they can go against it, they can go against them,” she explained.
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A call to the authorities
On May 3, on Freedom of the Press Day, during the celebration of the anniversary of the EFE news agency in Guatemala, the Secretary of Social Communication of the Presidency affirmed that there is freedom of the press in the country, since in its monitoring They have identified thousands of notes critical of the government or “explicitly against it.”
For the International Observation Mission this is not a guarantee that there is freedom of the press and reference was made to the criminalization of Carlos Choc and Robinson Ortega, as well as the imprisonment of Anastasia Mejía, the arrest of Norma Sancir and the assault suffered by Sonny Figueroa.
In addition, the organizations pointed out that the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists is inoperative and called on the authorities to take action in favor of the press, as well as on the Justice to act independently.
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“We find it worrying that this diagnosis is not fully assumed, which should have a materialization of concrete measures in favor of the press,” said Maldonado, who added that, despite the fact that there is openness to receive information and questions from the Mission, no response was received on how the situation of the press in Guatemala will be reversed.
Press situation in Guatemala
Between 2018 and 2023, at least 30 Guatemalan justice system officials, prosecutors, activists, and journalists have had to go into exile denouncing political persecution against them.
In April, the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) assured, in a report, that press freedom in Guatemala is being “degraded” due to the criminal prosecution undertaken against journalists.
On May 2, the trial also began against the renowned Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, who has been in prison for almost 10 months, after being arrested after launching corruption accusations against the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei.
Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) pointed out that there has been a deterioration in the conditions for freedom of expression in Guatemala, where in 2021 and 2022 71 attacks against journalists and media were documented. of communication, “including cases of intimidation, harassment and criminalization, the latter the ones with the greatest increase”.
It added that “the impact of the improper use of criminal law on freedom of the press has as an extreme case that of the journalist José Rubén Zamora, where violations of due process have been observed, which implies the right to information on the nature and charges of the prosecution, to a trial without undue delay, to the defense, to a public trial by an independent and impartial tribunal and to the presumption of innocence”.
He adds that “as a consequence, we have seen the closure of elPeriódico, which means a weakening of Press Freedom and access to information. Oacnudh recalls that freedom of expression, opinion and the press are fundamental pillars in a democratic society that respects civic space”.