Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today about death threats received by four journalists and seven human rights activists in Guatemala and called on the authorities to thoroughly investigate and to arrest and punish those responsible.
"This intimidation is a new blow to press freedom in Guatemala, where human rights organisations and those reporting violations are increasingly under constant pressure," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to interior minister Eduardo Arévalo Lacs.
Ménard noted that freelance journalist David Herrera was forced to go into exile in April after investigating human rights violations by the army during the country’s 1960-96 civil war. About 20 journalists were threatened or physically attacked and the staff of several media subjected to intimidation in Guatemala last year, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The four journalists - Abner Gouz, of the daily El Periódico, Rosa María Bolaños, of the daily Siglo XXI, Ronaldo Robles and Marielos Monzón, of the radio station Emisoras Unidas, along with seven human rights activists, received death threats on 7 June in a anonymous statement sent to the Alliance Against Impunity and to the newsrooms of the media concerned. The 11 were accused of being "enemies of the country" and were threatened with "extermination" by "true Guatemalans."
The threats came after the 27-31 May visit to Guatemala by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, who was also mentioned in the statement. At the end of her visit, she said the existence of clandestine armed groups threatening human rights activists and accused to be backed by the army was "very serious and worrying" and called on the government to track them down and bring them under control. The 11 who received the threats have formally complained to the country’s human rights prosecutor, Tatiana Morales.
Guatemala’s truth commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico - CEH) said in February 1999 that the army was responsible for 93 per cent of the massacres perpetrated during the civil war in which nearly 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. But the government has refused to implement the commission’s recommendations, notably its call to set up a special enquiry into the army to weed out those mainly responsible for such abuses.