The state of press freedom has not changed in the last six months, except for the intention of former president and Guatemala City mayor Álvaro Arzú to sue print media for what they have published, in addition to isolated incidents with journalists in the interior of the country during the presidential election campaign that was conducted late last year and attempts to change the Law on Access to Information by some Guatemalan political sectors.
President Otto Pérez Molina, elected in December and who took office on January 14, has said that he will respect freedom of the press and to date there have not been any signs of confrontation with the press.
Former president Arzú, who has published in an official gazette of the municipality of Guatemala City opinions favorable to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa for having sued a newspaper and journalists in his country, and imitating him he has filed a lawsuit in court against the newspaper Prensa Libre over a report on its Web site that in its first version, which was published for only a short time, alleged that the Arzú family were owners of a commercial complex where some workers had died. In the second published version this was not mentioned.
Arzú said that his family members “are being libeled and could be highly criticized by readers of the publication, which would harm their reputation and social relationships, as they would be badly viewed, damaging their reputation and offending their honor.” So far the suit has been rejected by the judges on the basis of defects in the way it has been presented.
In recent months 10 journalists were the object of threats and intimidation in the interior of the country.
The most serious threats during this period were made against Lucía Escobar, a columnist with elPeriódico and an announcer with Radio Ati in the town of Panajachel, Sololá province in western Guatemala, who had to leave town due to threats made to her by the local Security Commission after publication of an article in which she wrote of alleged abuses of the local people by the commission.
Gustavo Girón, correspondent of the Guatevisión television newscast in the same town, received a telephone call on Monday, October 31 threatening him, following airing of a report of his on the arrest of two leaders of the Security Commission.
Alfonso Guárquez, correspondent of the news agency Cerigua in Sololá, and reporter Enrique Pablo de León were attacked by a political party’s attorney as they were covering an alleged anomaly in one of the voting centers in the opening round of elections.
Journalist Víctor Espino, who works as a correspondent of Radio Punto and a number of print media in Jalapa province in eastern Guatemala, received a death threat from a National Civil Police (PNC) officer as he was covering a car accident in which six people were killed in the township of Los López.
On February 7 the full Congress took up a bill for Law 4328 introduced by the government of former president Álvaro Colom last year which seeks to amend the Law on Access to Information regarding confidential information, giving rise to a protest by several organizations, such as Acción Ciudadana (Citizens Action), Seguridad en Democracia (Security in Democracy) and Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala–UDEFEGUA (Unit for the Protection of Female and Male Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala).
The proposed amendment seeks to add to the fifth clause of the Law Article 22-b, which would characterize military and diplomatic affairs as confidential information of national security and to delete numbers 1 and 2 of Article 23, which deal with the same matter.
Late last year the Department of Adminisrtrative Affairs and Security of the Guatemalan executive branch of government sought to restrict access to 48 kinds of information for seven years. This came a week after there was made public the purchase of liquor costing 1.1 million quetzals and the rental of 20 armored cars for 2.8 million quetzals, something that was annulled after the president elect said that if it was not stopped he would do so on taking office.