Since a team from Guatemala’s Center for Independent Media (CMI-G) began to cover the recent evictions in Alta Verapaz, a chain of attacks was initiated, among those cyber-attacks, which impeded the immediate publication of the information collected during the events. The eviction was carried out by the National Civil Police, the army, and civilians who were accompanying them in an irregular fashion. During these actions, more than 100 families were displaced, five community leaders were captured, and three campesinos were assassinated. These events have yet to be fully investigated.
This region, located in the northern part of the country, is characterized by strong interests surrounding hydroelectric projects; petroleum extraction and mining; as well as mono-culture crops for the production of agro-fuels and other products.
In this context, on the night of August 23, one individual, who resides with the two reporters who covered the previously mentioned evictions, was kidnapped. This person (whose name has been omitted for security reasons) was detained for several hours, and was threatened, beaten, and harassed. Along with the beating, direct threats were made against Gustavo Illescas, the author of the articles about the evictions, and against the work of CMI-G. For this action there are two complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office.
These were not the first attacks. The collective Emancipa Producciones, which forms part of CMI, suffered persecution during their coverage of the student protests (normalistas), and were harassed during the writing of a report about the installation of the Saqja’ hydroelectric dam (located in Purulhá). Attempts were made to impede their presentation of the documentary, “La Propuesta Impuesta”, during a film festival. Furthermore, during the different coverages of the anti-mining resistance “La Puya”, in San José del Golfo, independent journalists suffered intimidations, threats, and attempts to sensor the media. These acts were denounced in national courts. This judicial process — filed together with other alternative media journalists — resulted in the conviction of individuals from the mining company, Exmingua.
These acts of aggressions have coincided with evictions or repression against communities and social movements by the public security forces. In these cases, the business-controlled media outlets have dedicated little or no coverage to the events, or have just repeated the biased discourse of the government. CMI-G has not been the only organization attacked. Richard Busquets, journalist with the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), has been criminalized and harassed on various occasions; Francisca Gómez Grijalva is expected to be brought to court over an opinion column in which she revealed the abuse of power by Cementos Progreso, among other cases.
CMI-G believes these attacks are concerning and indicate an increasing tendency since the current administration took power. The declarations of the Ministry of the Interior regarding the intention to regulate the circulation of critical content in social networks, as well as the proposed Law 4843 presented by the political party LIDER, represent attempts to create a legal precedent which would serve to accuse social reporters who cover certain themes of spying, terrorism and other crimes. These measures attempt to cause auto-censorship, to promote dis-information, and to isolate communities faced with a scenario of conflict and repression.
As a result, we publicly denounce these attacks. We manifest our solidarity with the people and collectives that suffer from repression, persecution, and government censorship. We demand that the Attorney General’s Office conduct an immediate and effective investigation. We demand that the government respect the right to freedom of expression and emission of thought, as well as the physical integrity and work of all of those that document and share information regarding acts that threaten dignity and human rights. Without these guarantees, a real democracy is impossible.