A police officer is seen in Guatemala City on August 10, 2019. Two family members of an ex-official recently sued journalists Sonny Figueroa and Marvin del Cid. (Reuters/Jose Cabezas)

Guatemalan ex-official’s family members sue 2 journalists under violence against women law

Guatemala City, June 4, 2021 — Guatemala authorities should drop the criminal charges against journalists Sonny Figueroa and Marvin del Cid, and ensure that former public officials do not abuse the country’s laws to harass members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In May 21, two relatives of Miguel Martínez, the former director of the Government Center presidential commission, a branch of the Guatemalan executive, filed a criminal suit against del Cid and Figueroa, both reporters at the investigative news website Vox Populi, alleging that they violated laws pertaining to coercion and violence against women, according to news reports and del Cid, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

In the suit, María Luisa Morales Gatica, the ex-official’s mother, and Claudia Ivonne Martínez Morales, his sister, claimed they had experienced emotional and psychological trauma due to del Cid and Figueroa’s work, and that it violated the country’s Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women; they did not specify which articles caused those alleged injuries, according to del Cid and a May 21 court document, which CPJ reviewed.

Del Cid told CPJ that their next court date is scheduled for July 14. If convicted of violence against women under the Law Against Femicide, the journalists could face five to 12 years in prison; if convicted of coercion under the penal code, they could face six months to two years.

Del Cid told CPJ that he believes the suit is related to Vox Populi’s reporting on the Guatemalan government and Miguel Martínez specifically. Earlier this year, the journalists published an article examining Martínez’s finances and his recent home purchase.

“Guatemalan authorities must drop the criminal charges against journalists Marvin del Cid and Sonny Figueroa and allow them to work freely, and should prevent officials and those close to them from manipulating laws that are supposed to protect women,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Guatemala’s Law Against Femicide was created to address the country’s high rates of gender-based violence, not to shield powerful individuals from criticism or offer them yet another tool to censor the press.”

On May 21, Judge Michelle Dardón imposed a restraining order barring the journalists from approaching the plaintiffs or their family members or entering their homes or workplaces, according to that court decision.

CPJ emailed the Guatemalan judiciary for comment but did not receive any response. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Miguel Martínez, his sister, or his mother.

On May 31, a group of more than 60 local organizations issued a statement condemning the “malicious” use of the country’s law against domestic violence in the case against the Vox Populi reporters, calling it “an abuse of public power,” according to news reports.

In late 2020, del Cid and Figueroa received a threatening letter warning them to stop their work, and President Alejandro Giammattei singled out both journalists for criticism, as CPJ documented at the time.

In 2013, then Vice President Roxana Baldetti sued journalist José Rubén Zamora under the Law Against Femicide, and in 2018, Sandra Jovel, then Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, sued him for psychological violence and discrimination under that law, according to CPJ reporting and news reports.