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Nine IFEX members express concern over freedom of expression situation in Guatemala

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - The following is a 29 January 2009 joint action by nine IFEX members:

Latin American organisations express concern over freedom of expression situation in Guatemala

Guatemala City, 29 January 2009. The signatories listed below, all of whom are IFEX members and participants in the "Regional meeting of Latin American freedom of expression organisations" organised by the IFEX Clearing House, express their concern over the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression in Guatemala.

In its 2008 report, the Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (Cerigua) stated that threats related to drug trafficking and organised crime are seriously impacting the work of Guatemalan journalists and media outlets. Three journalists were killed in 2008 in circumstances that the judiciary has not clarified, at least 10 journalists received death threats and 13 were assaulted. In this context, the press has opted to use self censorship as its first line of defence. Cerigua also noted cases of attacks on journalists that were committed by police officers.

Nevertheless, the information reported does not reflect the whole situation, since the majority of victims prefer to remain silent and do not file complaints on their cases. This generalised fear feeds impunity and allows the crimes to go unpunished, as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) has stated.

The participants in the regional freedom of expression meeting were able to confirm this information through the testimonies of various journalists, who spoke about the problematic public security situation in Guatemala and the fear journalists feel with respect to their coverage of violent events. Additionally, they spoke about the lack of commitment on the part of local authorities to the protection of journalists and the media. According to the information collected, the areas most affected are Zacapa, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz and San Marcos

The freedom of expression organisations also met with Deputy Minister of State (Viceministro de Gobernación) Arnoldo Villagrán. Villagrán confirmed that the insecurity and violence in Guatemala stem from the emerging drug trade and internal rivalries between cartels, in addition to the challenging economic situation. He added that part of the problem is one of perception, where bad news is often overstated and official successes go unnoticed, which adds to the public's fear. Finally, he said that Guatemala is working on strengthening the police force to improve public security.

The meeting participants call on the Guatemala government to guarantee the conditions necessary for freedom of expression in the country and protection of journalists. According to the Organisation of American States' (OAS) Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, "Freedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals. Additionally, it is an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society."

In addition, the organisations urge the government to develop a plan, together with civil society, that considers at the very least the implementation of mechanisms to protect journalists and media outlets, the investigation of crimes against journalists and a human rights training programme for police officers and public officials.

Signatories

Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), Brazil
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC-Mexico)
National Center for Social Communication, (CENCOS), Mexico
Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET), Mexico
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA), Guatemala
Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), Argentina
Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Colombia
Institute for Press and Society (IPYS-Venezuela)
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP), Paraguay

Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Center for Journalism and Public Ethics
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC

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