November 30 marks Guatemalan Journalist’s Day, established in 1972 to honor the “vital role” journalists serve in the country. This year, journalists are observing the day by demonstrating against a government that is escalating attacks against them and failing to protect press freedom.
Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that, throughout President Alejandro Giammattei’s first year in office, which started in January 2020, the administration targeted the media through bellicose rhetoric and false accusations.
The government’s verbal attacks became more frequent as Covid-19 began to spread in Guatemala in March 2020 and authorities moved to restrict access to information about the pandemic. Investigations into threats, attacks, and killings of journalists made little progress as the government failed to ensure prosecutors had the necessary resources to conduct prompt and effective probes. In April 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said Guatemala was one of several countries conducting campaigns to stigmatize journalists.
As 2021 draws to a close, these problems remain.
In September, the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of government supporters, called on the Attorney General’s Office to criminally investigate elPeriódico after the newspaper published allegations of corruption implicating the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras. In October, the IACHR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression expressed concern about “attacks, threats and intimidation of journalists and media outlets,” including attacks and harassment of at least four reporters from Prensa Comunitaria, an online outlet, who were covering demonstrations against mining in El Estor. In November, Guatemala’s Ombudsperson’s Office said the climate for press freedom in the country was worsening, “exacerbated by systematic attacks against journalists.”
With judicial independence and the Ombudsperson’s Office also under attack in Guatemala, an independent press has an incredibly important role to play. Today’s demonstration is a brave attempt to expose how the Guatemalan government is failing to guarantee the necessary conditions for media freedom – a reminder of why Guatemalan Journalist’s Day is as important as ever.