Guatemala: new president Bernardo Arévalo must act quickly to stop the criminalisation of journalism

Following his inauguration as Guatemala’s president on 14 January, Bernardo Arévalo faces a range of press freedom challenges as a key test of his new government. With a reputation as a reformer, it remains to be seen how Arévalo will act to stop the criminalisation of journalism in Guatemala, including addressing the high-profile case of detained elPeriódico publisher Jose Rubén Zamora, who faces a retrial in February.

After more than four months of domestic tension and threats to undermine the results of the democratic election, Arévalo was finally sworn in as president of Guatemala on Sunday, 14 January. Amid a climate of instability, which continues in the face of lawsuits filed against his party by defeated political groups in collusion with the judiciary, Arévalo will face many challenges to rebuild a climate conducive to press freedom. Among the key tests of his new government will be how to end the persecution and criminalisation of journalists and media critical of the upper echelons of power.

« While newly elected president Bernardo Arévalo does not have direct powers over the Public Prosecutor's Office or the justice system, he knows that his arrival in power means a lot for rebuilding a strong press freedom climate. It is imperative that the police apparatus and executive bodies cease the persecution of journalists and the Guatemalan authorities, without delay, release elPeriódico publisher Jose Rubén Zamora, who is scheduled to be retried on 5 February.

Artur Romeu
RSF's Latin America Bureau Director

Breaking the climate of fear for journalists

The result of a process of co-optation of the state by different political, military and economic groups – in some cases linked to criminal organisations – democratic institutions, and the rule of law have been dismantled in recent years in Guatemala. This has resulted, as the mission carried out by RSF and 10 partner organisations in Guatemala in 2023 showed, in an institutional arrangement that serves impunity and corruption. 

Dozens of journalists who covered cases of corruption, attacks on the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples, and even those who reported on lawsuits against judges and other media professionals have been criminalised and prosecuted, as in the case of the founder and then editor of elPeriódico, Jose Rubén Zamora, unjustly accused of money laundering, and still detained. He was arrested on 29 July 2022, five days after elPeriódico published information about cases of corruption involving people close to President Alejandro Giammattei. Subjected to judicial harassment, in June 2023 he was sentenced to six years in prison on trumped-up charges. 

Under Guatemalan Attorney General María Consuelo Porras Argueta, who will remain in office until 2026, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and journalists have lost their freedom or been forced to leave the country to avoid arrest. Hundreds of criminal investigations have been opened into allegations of "obstruction of justice" by these journalists.

Many of these journalists lack the financial resources to pay lawyers and have been forced into exile for safety, including Juan Luis Font, who was covering for different media outlets corruption allegations against a former communications minister, who accused him of blackmail and criminal association. The journalists from the digital media outlet Vox Populi Sonny Figueroa and Marvin del Cid left the country at the end of 2023 after being constantly attacked on social media and threatened with prosecution, after publishing a report on the illicit enrichment of one of former president Alejandro Giammattei's friends.  

Arévalo’s expected review of the government's position in Zamora’s upcoming retrial on 5 February, as well as other ongoing cases against the press, will prove to be a crucial step towards reframing these cases and reversing the dangerous trends enacted by the previous administration. Guatemala is ranked 127th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index

Sign RSF’s petition for the immediate release of Jose Rubén Zamora!


127/ 180
Score : 48.12
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