The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the August 31 police attack on Guatemalan journalists covering the eviction of peasants from a ranch in the southern department of Retalhuleu. The police operation ended with several deaths and scores of injuries.
Guatemalan police attacked and threatened at least eight journalists reporting on the eviction, which involved hundreds of peasants who had occupied the Nueva Linda ranch, according to local news reports. The attacks came after the journalists witnessed police killing several peasants, those reports said. The police also confiscated their cameras and video equipment. When several journalists tried to recover their equipment, police threatened them, fired shots into the air, and launched tear gas grenades at them, news reports said.
According to local news reports, the journalists who were attacked included Mario Morales, a reporter, William Meoño, a photographer, and Marvin Guillén, an assistant, who work for the Guatemala City-based daily Nuestro Diario; Edward Morales, a cameraman with the TV channel Guatevisión; Fredy Rodas, a reporter with the Guatemala City daily Prensa Libre; Mynor Toj and Luis Romero, reporter and cameraman, respectively, with regional cable channel Cable DX; and Gerardo Montenegro, a freelance photographer. Both Edward Morales and Rodas told CPJ that all of the journalists were carrying press credentials and press jackets. Journalists have yet to recover their equipment, including tapes on which they recorded the killings.
As Your Excellency knows, your government is bound by Article 35 of the Guatemalan Constitution to guarantee society's right to freedom of expression and the right to information. In this case, the police response was not intended to preserve public order, but to suppress coverage that exposed police officers' own actions.
As a nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, we urge your government to carry out a thorough and prompt investigation into the attack and prosecute those responsible. This is an appropriate opportunity for the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists and Trade Unionists to demonstrate its commitment to investigate such attacks.
We call on your government to ensure that law enforcement personnel do not interfere with news coverage. And we urge that journalists who request police protection be provided with adequate security.
These police actions have had a chilling effect on all Guatemalan journalists. We respectfully request you investigate this matter, and we look forward to your response.