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Community radio stations raided, journalist arrested

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - 8 May 2012 - Representatives of the Attorney General's office and National Civil Police officers raided community radio stations Uqul Tinamit and Jun Toj on 8 May 2012, taking their equipment and arresting one journalist. The stations are located in San Miguel Chicaj, Baja Verapaz.

According to Noé Ismalej, an Uqul Tinamit employee, the raid took place in the morning. Journalist Brian Espinoza, 22, was arrested and taken first to the Salamá Criminal Court of First Instance and later to a protective custody facility.

The station had been on the air for 15 years, employed 16 staff and had a reach of 25,000 people.

Anselmo Xunic, from the National Community Radio Movement (Movimiento Nacional de Radios Comunitarias), a collective working towards the approval of a law on community media, told CERIGUA that while the operation of a radio station may be illegal under the current law it is not a crime and should not be subject to criminal persecution.

In 2006, Xunic was arrested and the equipment from radio Ixchel, where he worked, was confiscated, but the presiding judge dismissed the case against him due to insufficient evidence necessary to bring him to trial.

In Guatemala there is no legislation on the granting of radio frequencies to community-based stations, an issue that was addressed by the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in its 2011 annual report.

A bill to this effect has not been discussed in the Legislature even though the matter was expressly stated both in the Constitution of the Republic and as part of the 1996 Peace Accords. Passing such legislation would also enable Guatemala to implement the recommendations of the OAS and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue.

(Please note this is an abridged translation.)

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