Police escort detained people to the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City in January 2022. On January 14, a criminal court judge issued an arrest warrant for journalist Carlos Choc based on a complaint from 13 police officers after he reported on a protest. (Reuters/Luis Echeverria)

Guatemalan journalist Carlos Choc faces criminal charges after covering protest

Guatemala City, April 1, 2022 — Guatemalan authorities should immediately drop criminal charges against journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc, a correspondent for local news outlet Prensa Comunitaria, and stop using the country’s justice system to harass and silence the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On January 14, a criminal court judge in Puerto Barrios, in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, issued an arrest warrant for Choc based on a complaint from 13 police officers who accused the journalist of “instigation to commit a crime” after he reported on an October 2021 demonstration against mining activities in El Estor, Izabal, according to Prensa Comunitaria and the Guatemalan Association of Journalists.

Although the arrest order dates back to January, Choc and Prensa Comunitaria only learned that his name was included on the warrant last week, according to the outlet. As of April 1, Choc had not been arrested.

In the complaint, filed on December 1, 2021, the police officers allege that 12 people, including Choc, attacked them during the demonstration, Prensa Comunitaria reported. Choc said police officers shoved him and confiscated his phone and microphone while he was attempting to cover the protests, according to a video from that day taken by Prensa Comunitaria and as CPJ documented.

“Once again, Carlos Choc is facing criminal charges simply for being one of the few reporters documenting the state response to demonstrations,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Guatemalan authorities must immediately drop the absurd charges against Choc, stop treating community journalists like criminals for doing their job, and put an end to their campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.”

Police spokesperson Jorge Aguilar did not respond to a request for comment sent via messaging app, and the attorney general’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

In August 2017, Choc was charged with incitement to commit crimes, illegal protests, and illegal detention during protests, and was subsequently forced to go into hiding for several months for his safety, as CPJ documented. He remains under “substitute measures” stemming from that case, which require him to check in with authorities once a month, according to news reports.

In April 2020, an unidentified individual broke into Choc’s home in El Estor and stole his reporting equipment, including a camera and two phones, as CPJ documented.