Managua, Nicaragua, September 28, 2020 – Guatemalan authorities should immediately release radio journalist Anastasia Mejía, drop the charges against her, and guarantee that journalists can report freely without persecution, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 22, the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) arrested journalist Anastasia Mejía Tiriquiz, director of the radio station Xol Abaj Radio and Xol Abaj TV, in the municipality of Joyabaj, Quiché, in central Guatemala, according to a report by Guatemalan news website Prensa Comunitaria. Mejía, a member of the Maya K’iche’ Indigenous group, is charged with sedition, aggravated attack, arson, and aggravated robbery, according to a tweet from the official PNC Twitter account.
Nelton Rivera, a reporter from Prensa Comunitaria, told CPJ via phone that Mejía is being charged with participating in an August 24 demonstration by a group of Joyabaj residents against mayor Francisco Carrascosa. Mejía reported live on the events through the Facebook page of Xol Abaj TV, which has more than 157,000 followers.
“Journalism is not a crime, and Anastasia Mejía should not face outlandish criminal charges simply for reporting on a protest in her municipality,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Guatemalan authorities should immediately release Mejía, drop the charges against her, and ensure journalists can report on events in their communities without harassment.”
Mejía is being held in pre-trial detention in the department of Quetzaltenango, according to Rivera. Although Guatemalan law establishes that an initial hearing must take place within 24 hours after an individual is arrested, her initial hearing has not occurred, Rivera told CPJ.
CPJ repeatedly called the public prosecutor’s office, but no one answered. CPJ also emailed that office but did not receive a reply.
According to the report by Prensa Comunitaria, police arrested Mejía along with activist Petrona Siy, who is facing the same charges. Mejía’s house, where she runs Xol Abaj Radio, was raided on the day of her detention, according to the same report.
Mejía is a well-known local reporter who has investigated alleged acts of corruption by the Joyabaj municipal government, according to a report by Guatemala news website Soy 502.
Another Guatemalan journalist, Carlos Ernesto Choc, has faced criminal charges for covering civilian demonstrations, and has been accused of leading such events, CPJ reported. In a special report on Guatemalan press freedom this year, CPJ found that outside major cities, rural and Indigenous journalists are at risk of discrimination and threats from criminal groups and corrupt officials.