Muzzled press unable to cover Guatemalan elections freely

In a joint report published on the eve of Guatemala’s presidential and legislative elections on 25 June, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and nine other organisations denounce a policy of terror and persecution of the country’s journalists and media that will prevent them from covering the elections properly.

This report about the dramatic decline in press freedom in Guatemala is based on interviews with journalists, media outlets and civil society organisations during a joint visit to the country in May. Its damning conclusions are beyond dispute.

The use of violence and harassment against the media has grown alarmingly during the past three years. The media are increasingly subjected to systematic intimidation because they are seen as a threat by a barely tacit alliance between the state and businessmen linked to organised crime – an alliance that controls institutions and maintains corruption and impunity. The harassment and criminalisation of journalists has become a new form of censorship.

The six-year jail sentence imposed earlier this month on José Rubén Zamora, the imprisoned founder and director of the outspoken but now closed El Periódico newspaper, is one of the latest examples of how the media are gagged in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan Journalists’ Association (APG) has recorded nearly 400 attacks against the media since Alejandro Giammattei became president in January 2020, of which 107 in 2022 alone. Political manipulation of the judiciary in order to persecute the media, seen in the harassment of El Periódico, has driven many journalists into exile. Guatemalan journalists’ concern about covering the elections is palpable. Fearing reprisals, more and more have stopped putting their by-lines on their stories or have stopped covering sensitive subjects.

Journalists from indigenous communities in regions far from the capital are especially vulnerable to attacks ranging from judicial harassment to death threats. Often in retaliation for denunciation of the activities of international corporations that operate mines or exploit other natural resources, these attacks are the work of representatives of private security firms, politicians and sometimes election candidates.

The spiralling harassment of the media and increase in attacks on journalists in Guatemala are symptomatic of the democratic decline that has marked the presidencies of Jimmy Morales and the incumbent, Alejandro Giammattei. The country's journalists and media are being subjected to a policy of terror and persecution by a ruling alliance that does not hesitate to criminalise its media critics. This environment simply does not allow journalists to cover the upcoming elections properly. It is crucial for the country’s future that the next president should address these issues and takes measures to curb these deadly phenomena.

Artur Romeu
Director of RSF’s Latin America bureau

The report by RSF and its partners includes a list of recommendations. Inter alia, they urge the Guatemalan authorities to:

  • Comply with the international obligations regarding freedom of expression that derive from the various human rights treaties ratified by the Guatemalan state.

  • Stop abusing the law and the judiciary to persecute the media, and ensure due process in proceedings involving journalists.

  • Release El Periódico owner and journalist José Rubén Zamora at once, and immediately drop all proceedings and investigations targeting his lawyers and eight of the newspaper’s former journalists.

  • Lose no time in publicly and clearly supporting and protecting press freedom in order to guarantee a legitimate and democratic electoral process, and in establishing safe and conducive conditions for journalistic work throughout the country.


Read the full report here. The report was written jointly by RSF, Freedom House, Article 19, Free Press Unlimited, Protection International MesoAmerica, FLIP, CPJ, IFEX-ALC, Fundamedios and Voces del Sur, which conducted a joint international observation mission to Guatemala in May 2023.

138/ 180
Score : 42.28
Published on