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Guatemala's president must implement a clear policy on protecting journalists

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 28 November 2014.

Otto Pérez Molina
President of the Republic of Guatemala
Paris, 28 November 2014

Dear President Pérez,

To mark Guatemala's national day dedicated to journalists, Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, wishes to inform you of its deep concern at the plight of journalists in your country.

Guatemala, ranked 125th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, remains a highly dangerous country for journalists. The Centre for informative reports on Guatemala (CERIGUA) has recorded 143 violations of press freedom since the start of your presidency. These include pressure, threats, intimidation, assaults and murders targeting journalists and media workers.

The increasing use of the courts, even by the country's leadership, to prosecute journalists and news organizations is also extremely worrying. Reporters Without Borders was particularly disturbed by the abusive legal proceedings pending against José Ruben Zamora, the editor of the newspaper El Periódico, since last year, and against the magazine Contrapoder in March this year.

These abuses, on the increase since last year, according to the number of complaints received by the public prosecutor, have become widespread against a background of almost total impunity. According to CERIGUA, 24 journalists have been murdered since 2000, including four last year, yet only one investigation has resulted in a conviction.

Such impunity leads to self-censorship, which is detrimental to journalistic activity, especially at a local level where organized crime is deeply rooted. Many journalists curb their investigations into sensitive subjects such as organized crime and corruption on the part of public officials for fear of violent reprisals.

Those who work in the media feel particularly vulnerable since they are most frequently the victims of those who are meant to guarantee their safety: the authorities and the security forces. It is not merely a question of highlighting the abuses committed by organized crime, but of implementing a clear and effective policy to guarantee the safety of journalists. In these circumstances, we welcome Guatemala's voluntary commitment, in its December 2012 Universal Periodic Review, to create a programme for the protection of journalists. This should be made operational as soon as possible.

Reporters Without Borders is also concerned about the concentration of media ownership, which is detrimental to pluralism. Legislation currently in force discriminates against community media and in favour of established outlets. Thus the 2011 reform of the telecommunications law allowed broadcasters with legally allocated frequencies to renew them while failing to address the problem of community broadcasters without legal frequencies. The latter are vulnerable since they can be closed down at any time on the grounds that they do not have legal status. In June this year, two community stations in the western department of Quiché, Estéreo Luz and La voz de Sonora, were forced to close after heavy-handed police raids.

To mark Journalists' Day, Reporters Without Borders calls on you to issue a statement strongly condemning attacks on journalists, including violations of press freedom by the authorities and security forces. Such a statement would carry particular weight since 2015 is an election year and is thus particularly fraught with danger for journalists.

I thank your for your attention in this matter.

Yours sincerely
Christophe Deloire
Secretary-General, Reporters Without Borders

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