Managua, Nicaragua, April 21, 2020 -- Guatemalan authorities should immediately investigate the robbery of journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc’s home, determine if it was related to his reporting, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 18 at around 1:30 a.m., an unidentified individual broke into Choc’s home in El Estor, Izabal department, and stole his work equipment, including a camera and two cellphones, but did not take any money or anything else in the home, Choc, a correspondent for environmental and local news website Prensa Comunitaria, told CPJ in a phone interview.
Choc told CPJ that he believed the robbery was an attempt to intimidate him and make him stop reporting on water shortages in a community near El Estor. He said he and his children were sleeping in the same room as the items that were stolen.
“A close neighbor told me that many people knew I was working with this issue of water and that there were people interested in censoring that, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Choc told CPJ, citing government mandates for locals to use more water for cleaning in light of the pandemic.
“Guatemalan authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate the robbery at Carlos Choc's home to determine if it was related to his reporting and take appropriate steps to ensure his safety,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Journalists in Guatemala must be able to report safely on key issues related to public health without facing retaliation or intimidation.”
Choc said he reported the crime to police the day it occurred, and that Prensa Comunitaria’s team also filed a report on the theft with the office of the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists in Guatemala City.
Government officials in the area are investigating the incident, Daniel Ordoñez, director of the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists, told CPJ via phone.
“We believe the robbery might be linked to his work because only his equipment was stolen,” Ordoñez told CPJ.
Yesterday, the prosecutor’s office issued protective measures to Choc and his family, including giving him a direct line to the prosecutor’s office and increasing police patrols near his home, according to a document from the office that CPJ reviewed.
Choc faced criminal charges in 2017, along with another local journalist, for documenting the death of a fisherman in a peaceful demonstration, as CPJ documented at the time. Choc remains under “substitute measures,” similar to parole, while he waits for the judge to respond to his request to drop the case.
A recent report on Guatemala, published by CPJ, shows that journalists covering environmental issues in smaller cities and rural areas face a higher risk of being persecuted. At least six journalists have been killed in Guatemala in direct relation to their work since 1992, according to CPJ research.