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Members of local security committee threaten journalist

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 27 October 2011, Lucía Escobar, a journalist in the touristic town of Panajachel, in western Guatemala, reported that members of the local security committee have threatened her. The threats were issued after she published an article about the forced disappearance of a person in the community and demanded an explanation from the committee.

The threats were issued via the local Canal 10 TV station during a broadcast of one of the committee's meetings. According to individuals who viewed the broadcast, the committee members accused Escobar of trafficking and consuming drugs. One of them called the journalist "trash" and said she should end up in the trash.

In Guatemala, a country with an almost complete absence of the rule of law, which is even more pronounced in the country's interior, local citizens tend to organize themselves into security committees. Cases in which these groups go beyond their original mandate and oppress the population they initially vowed to protect are frequent.

In an article published on 21 October by the "El Periódico" newspaper, the journalist accused the security committee of walking around at night with covered faces and brandishing sticks and bats. She wrote, referring to specific incidents: "So far there have been more than 30 accusations against 'los encapuchados' (the masked or hooded ones) for various crimes, such as abuse of authority, torture and kidnapping . . . we are also talking about murder, social cleansing and extrajudicial executions."

Escobar, who stated in her article that she holds the committee responsible for anything that may happen to her, has already filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office and has said she fears for her life.

In communication with IPYS, Juan Manuel Ralón, a member of the local security committee mentioned in Escobar's article, stated that they have evidence that the journalist consumes and traffics drugs. He did not present any evidence to back up the accusation but said that if "she can base what she says on what people tell her, we can also talk about what people tell us."

Several people in Panajachel whom IPYS contacted said members of the security committee have sent messages to Escobar via third parties telling her that she will end up at the bottom of the picturesque local lake that is visited by thousands of tourists every year.


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