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CAPSULE REPORT: "Parallel powers" continuously violate free expression, says CERIGUA report

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - The following is a 23 January 2008 CERIGUA press release:

"Parallel powers" continuously violate free expression in Guatemala

In its Report on the Situation of Free Expression in Guatemala, covering the first six months of 2007, CERIGUA's Press Observatory (Observatorio de los Periodistas) reveals that the right to free expression in this Central American country is continuously violated by powerful but unofficial power holders ? "parallel powers" - including those involved in organized crime and drug-trafficking, as well as by some corrupt officials.

The report also notes that reporting on issues of crime, drug-trafficking and corruption in Guatemala is scarce, because journalists and media owners fear possible retaliation for reporting on these issues.

The report indicates that it was largely in response to this situation that CERIGUA established its Press Observatory, which has become an important source of support and solidarity for journalists who denounce the acts of violence to which they are subject. (The Observatory also provides journalists with research and professional development support.)

According to the report, the main challenges to free expression in Guatemala derive from the generalized lack of safety in the country and the existence of powerful and unaccountable interest groups (parallel powers); impunity; censorship and self-censorship; media concentration; an inadequate legal framework; the exclusion of topics of social importance from the media agenda; the lack of ethics and professional solidarity within the media sector, as well as a lack of financial support for free expression work.

Most serious is the threat from unofficial power holders who behave in a manner comparable to paramilitary groups; testimonies abound regarding the violent tactics of these groups.

The report recommends that media outlets and journalists continue reporting on "parallel powers", organized crime and official corruption, and that they seek ways to protect themselves against possible reprisal by those who would resent such exposure. The report also urges media professionals to publicly denounce any acts of intimidation to which they are subject, and to expose attempts to censor, in order to ensure that those who would silence the media fail in their efforts to do so.

For the complete report (in Spanish only), see: http://www.cerigua.org/portal/observatorio/estadode_situacion_primer_semestre2007.pdf

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