Freedom of Expression

Press Release R91/16

Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Concern over Murder of Journalists and Media Workers in Guatemala

July 1, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of radio director Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López last Sunday in Guatemala, and urges the State to exercise due diligence to investigate this crime.

On Sunday, June 26, journalist Aceituno López was shot in the head by unknown persons, and later died in a hospital in the town of Coatepeque. He was the director of Radio Ilusión in Coatepeque and the host of a news program called Acontecer Coatepecano.

Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern over the murder of four other journalists in different incidents this year in Guatemala. According to the information disseminated by Guatemala’s media and civil society, on March 17 was murdered Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, a journalist and the director of Radio Estéreo Azúcar. On April 8, radio announcer Winston Leonardo Túnchez Cano of the radio station La Jefa in the departmental capital of Escuintla was gunned down. The third murder took place on April 30, when three armed subjects reportedly intercepted and fired upon Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar’s motorcycle. He was the host of two programs on Radio Sembrador. On June 7, journalist and doctor Víctor Hugo Valdés Cardona was shot dead.

Authorities have reportedly opened investigations in all these cases; however, it has not been possible to confirm whether all of these crimes are linked to the victims’ work as journalists and media workers. The Office of the Special Rapporteur maintains that it is essential for the Guatemalan State to conduct complete, effective, and impartial investigations into these crimes, which affect all of Guatemalan society. The State must establish the motives behind them, and judicially determine their potential connection to journalistic activity and freedom of expression. In this regard, it is critical that the authorities investigate these events without dismissing the theory of a link to journalistic activity and freedom of expression.

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have addressed the chilling effect that crimes against journalists have on other media professionals as well as on citizens who intend to report abuses of power or unlawful acts of any kind. This chilling effect can only be prevented, according to the Commission, "by swift action on the part of the State to punish all perpetrators, as is its duty under international and domestic law."

In addition, Principle 9 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that: "The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the State of Guatemala to continue working on the establishment of a special protection mechanism for journalists that will enable it to confront the country’s serious and structural situation of violence against journalists and media workers. In this regard, the Office reiterates the advisability of having international support in the design and operation of the mechanism, and the need to ensure the full participation of journalists and civil society in the process.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.