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Guatemala moves to protect disaster survivors, but will it be at the expense of free expression?

This statement was originally published on sipiapa.org on 21 September 2016.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at a State of Prevention decree issued in Guatemala as a response to disasters in the Central American country caused by strong rainfalls. The hemisphere organization considered that some parts of the executive order are not necessary and represent a potential risk for freedom of expression.

Governmental Decree 05-2016, made public yesterday, has the objective of minimizing the effects of strong rainfalls and protecting the lives of Guatemalans, the government reported. However, according to members of Congress and experts in law the action, which is valid for 15 days, exceeds the authority of the government in undermining three constitutional rights – free travel, free assembly and free expression, this latter one in requiring media to avoid publications that "in the judgment of the authority" incite disorderly conduct, which is seen as censorship of news media content.

IAPA President Pierre Manigault declared, "While it is a duty of the government to guarantee the security and protect the life of its citizens it is of concern that in using this argument freedom of expression is restricted."

Manigault, president of the Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper The Post and Courier, added that what is involved in this case is "an unnecessary and potential risk for freedom of expression, above all at a time in which the population needs to be continually and duly informed."

He called on the Guatemalan government to examine the decree and correct those parts that could restrict the right to the members of the pubic to receive information.

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