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World Press Freedom Review
2005 World Press Freedom Review
Throughout the year, the Association of Guatemalan Journalists (Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala – APG) and the Centre of Informative Reports on Guatemala (Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala – CERIGUA), among other organisations, reported numerous cases of harassment, intimidation and violence against journalists, including the use of excessive force by the police. Especially those reporters attempting to investigate corruption or human rights abuses committed during Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, which ended in 1996, continued to face death threats and physical attacks at the hands of corrupt officials, former paramilitaries, organised criminals, and others.
In a positive development, on 14 June, the Constitutional Court suspended the "desacato" or insult provisions contained in the penal code, following a motion submitted by Mario Fuentes Destarac, chairman of the Guatemalan Press Chamber (Cámara Guatemalteca de Periodismo), that the articles be eliminated on the grounds of their unconstitutionality. The country’s highest court said it would review the constitutionality of articles 411, 412 and 413, which provide for jail sentences of six months to three years for anyone found guilty of offending public officials or state institutions. (On 3 February 2006, the Constitutional Court eliminated articles 411, 412 and 413 from the penal code).
On 25 February, a Guatemala City court sentenced Eduviges Funesa, a former member of the armed forces, to 16 years in prison for his part in the June 2003 raid on the home of José Rubén Zamora, publisher of the daily newspaper, elPeriódico. The second defendant, Belter Álvarez, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
On 24 June 2003, Zamora and his family were held captive for several hours by a group of armed individuals. Eleven men gained entry into Zamora’s house in Guatemala City by posing as officers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Zamora said. The men blindfolded Zamora, put a gun to his head and told him he was going to be executed. Before leaving, they told him that they knew his family’s routine and would kill them if he reported the attack. Zamora’s newspaper had recently published a series of articles claiming that a "parallel power structure" made up of former military officers, including Guatemala’s former military ruler General Efrain Ríos Montt, was actually running the country. Because of its critical reporting, elPeriódico has been the brunt of an orchestrated campaign of harassment and intimidation since its inception in 1996.
Since the start of the year, journalists working for the TV programme, "Contacto Noticioso", broadcast by the Canal 13 cable television station in Chiquimula department, received numerous deaths threats. According to Benjamin Martínez, the programme’s producer, his team received at least 25 anonymous telephone calls, warning them to stop reporting or risk being killed.
On 1 March, several reporters, including Ewin Silva and Carlos Garcia of the news programme "Telediario", Carla Solorzano, a reporter for Radio Universidad, and Adolfo Argueta, a reporter for the news programme "Noti7", were attacked by former paramilitaries wielding machetes while they were covering a demonstration in Guatemala City by former members of the Civil Defence Patrols (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil). Guatemala’s civil patrols, known as PACs, have been accused of committing hundreds of human rights violations during the civil war, including massacres of suspected left-wing guerrillas and Mayan civilians. Since 2002, they have been demanding that the government pay them for their services during the war.
Three other journalists, Rolando Hernández and Arnulfo Ortiz of Vanguardia Informativa, and Edwin Paxtor of the TV programme "TV Enfasis", were also attacked by former PACs while covering a demonstration in Chiquimula department in July.
On 14 March, Edwin Benavente of the daily newspaper Nuestro Diario was brutally attacked by anti-riot police while he was covering street protests that erupted after the government ratified the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, with United States. According to Benavente, a group of police officers hit him repeatedly and tried to seize his camera.
On 17 March, Marielos Monzón, host of the radio programme "Buenos Días", broadcast in Guatemala City by Radio Universidad, received three threatening calls on her mobile phone. The caller told her to stop defending Guatemala’s indigenous peoples or she would be killed. Monzón had received threats in the past and on two occasions armed men broke into her home, forcing her to flee into exile for three months in 2003.
Two other journalists, Alfonso Guáquez, a correspondent for CERIGUA in Sololá department, and Juan Carlos Aquino, host of the news programme "Punto Informativo" on Novedad Radio in Zacapa department, also received death threats in March.
In May, Miguel Ángel Barrios, director of the TV news programme "Noti Galaxia" in Tecún Umán, San Marcos department, received several threatening calls on his mobile phone, warning him to leave Tecún Umán or be killed.
In early December, telecommunications authorities shut down the community radio station Stereo Samalá in Retalhuleu department, CERIGUA reported. The telecommunications supervisory body, SIT, also fined the station’s owner approximately US$ 10,000 for operating without a licence.
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