Terror against journalists and freedom of expression

José Cancinos

The persecution, criminalisation, penalisation and even imprisonment of journalists and media employees by the regime of Alejandro Giammattei through its operator, the Public Prosecutor’s Office led by prosecutor Consuelo Porras, and supported by judges, personalities and organizations in favor of impunity, has led international community organizations to conclude that it is terrible to practice journalism in the country.

The terror they have instilled against journalists and press freedom has forced many journalists in the departments outside the capital city to refrain from carrying out investigative journalism in the institutions that make up the entire state apparatus.

With such action, the Gimmattei regime is violating Article 35 of the Political Constitution on Freedom of Thought, as well as Article 46, which states that treaties and conventions accepted and ratified by Guatemala take precedence over domestic law.

Guatemala ratified Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Both encompass the main guarantees for journalists, communicators and social and community communicators, and even for people who carry out journalistic activities outside companies or social and community organizations.

Under the protection of the Political Constitution of the Republic as well as treaties and conventions accepted and ratified by Guatemala, the Gimmattei regime and its operator Consuelo Porras must refrain from continuing to criminalize the right to express opinions, the right to investigate, receive information and opinions, and the right to disseminate them regardless of borders and any means of expression.

All state employees must be aware that it is a fundamental right of individuals to access information, and in particular prosecutors and judges must be aware that all social communicators have the right to reserve their sources of information, notes, personal and professional files. Therefore, privacy laws should not inhibit or restrict the investigation and dissemination of information of public interest.

It is imperative that prosecutors, judges and government officials are aware that they are public employees and that their actions are under the scrutiny of citizens and under the protection of the Constitution, which states that no one is superior to the law.

Direct or indirect pressures by such state officials aimed at silencing the informative work of social communicators are incompatible with freedom of expression.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression is convinced that when the free debate of ideas and opinions is hindered, freedom of expression and the effective development of the democratic process are limited.

The IACHR recalls that freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognised in the Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights. Also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Resolution 59 (l) of the United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 104 adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international instruments and national constitutions.

Therefore, as the IACHR recognises, freedom of the press is essential for the realization of the full and effective exercise of freedom of expression and an indispensable instrument for the functioning of representative democracies, through which citizens exercise their right to receive, disseminate and seek information. Freedom of expression is not a concession by states, but a fundamental right.

José Cancinos, three decades in journalism, self-defender of the free expression of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Former president of the Asociación de Prensa Quezalteca (APQ), founding member of the Red de Protección para Periodistas de Guatemala, member of the journalists’ collective #NoNosCallarán, and representative in Quetzaltenango of the Red Rompe el Miedo Guatemala.