Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship as Mexican drug cartels expanded their presence in Guatemala. In May, criminals in four provinces hung banners in public places, threatening journalists with harm if gang activities were covered. A television journalist in southern Escuintla province was killed under unclear circumstances after receiving several threats. While the rise of criminal groups posed a growing risk, journalists also faced danger for coverage of official corruption and domestic security issues. In the southwestern city of Quetzaltenango, a television journalist and his family escaped injury when their van came under gunfire. The reporter had received death threats related to his coverage of police corruption. A columnist in the western city of Panajachel was forced to relocate after receiving a series of intimidating text messages concerning her coverage of a citizen security committee. The local press group CERIGUA documented an increase in press freedom violations in the months leading up to the November presidential elections, as well as a number of assaults and threats against journalists on Election Day. Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general running on the conservative Patriotic Party ticket, defeated businessman Manuel Baldizón in a runoff. Facing a murder rate among the highest in the world, Pérez pledged a tough approach on crime.
Yensi Roberto Ordoñez Galdámez, a television reporter and teacher, was stabbed to death in May 2011. CPJ continues to investigate to determine if the motive was work-related.
Newspaper columnist Lucía Escobar fled Panajachel after intimidation and harassment in connection with a piece that suggested a citizen security committee might have been behind the disappearance of a local resident. Escobar alleged the committee, an independent group formed to help protect the community, had begun using extralegal measures to enforce its own code of conduct.
The local press group CERIGUA documented 15 abuses against the press in the first six months of 2011.
Nineteen violations were documented in all of 2010.
Breakdown of 2011 violations:
2: Cases of obstruction
CERIGUA found that more than half of the 2011 violations were committed by government authorities or politicians. Criminal groups accounted for only one case because Guatemalan journalists were practicing self-censorship, CERIGUA said.
Attack by source:
2: Political party members
1: Organized crime
1: Security agent
In May, three reputed members of the Zetas crime syndicate were arrested in the city of Quetzaltenango on charges of hanging banners with anti-press messages such as: “Tone it down, before the war is with you.” Similar banners were found in Petén, Baja Verapaz, and Huehuetenango provinces. A week earlier, the press had covered the massacre of farm workers in Petén province. The Zetas organization, which originated in Mexico, has made considerable inroads in Guatemala in recent years.
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1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
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