New York, June 30, 2017--Guatemalan authorities should thoroughly investigate the threats against journalist Marielos Monzón, an investigative reporter and contributor to the newspaper Prensa Libre, and should ensure her safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 26, Monzón submitted a formal complaint to the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists in response to her inclusion on a list of people alleged to have been involved in "terrorist" crimes during Guatemala's 36-year internal conflict that recently circulated widely on social media, according to news reports. The document was also shared with people alleged to be members of organized crime groups, according to the press freedom organization CERIGUA.
"We are alarmed by this attempt to intimidate journalists into censoring themselves," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "The Guatemalan government should conduct a thorough investigation into the dangerous threats against Marielos Monzón and should redouble its efforts to ensure journalists can do their work safely."
On June 11, the daily newspaper elPeriódico reported that a lawyer affiliated with the Foundation Against Terrorism, a right-wing group linked to retired military generals, had told her clients, including alleged drug traffickers and others alleged to have ties to organized crime, that the people on the list were responsible for criminal proceedings and extradition cases brought against them. In her June 13 column in the Prensa Libre newspaper, Monzón called these actions an "incitement to violence that puts those of us who appear on the list in serious danger."
"I feel like I'm in a situation of imminent risk right now," Monzon told CPJ. "Not only in terms of my life, but it is also a violation of freedom of expression. It's a campaign of slander and defamation to remove my credibility and get me to be quiet."
Julio Paredes, an official with the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists, told CPJ the office had requested police protection for Monzón and had opened an investigation.
Monzón told CPJ she first learned about the list in December 2011, when businessman Theodore Plocharski filed a complaint seeking to indict 52 individuals for a series of "terrorist" actions during the Guatemalan civil war, which ended in 1996. The document accuses the 52 people named of participating in serious crimes, including kidnapping, torture, and murder.
Monzón's name appeared next to her alleged guerrilla pseudonym, "Tania." The list includes two other columnists, as well as human rights activists and political figures, according to reports.
Monzón denied the allegations. She told CPJ that many of the events cited in the document occurred in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when she was just a few years old or before she was even born.
Monzón has worked as a journalist for more than two decades, covering human rights issues including war crimes, corruption, and impunity.
Political polarization and increasingly powerful organized crime groups have left many Guatemalan journalists fearful for their safety and afraid to report on sensitive issues, according to CPJ research.