Freedom of Expression

Press Release R52/20

Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the murder of journalist Bryan Guerra and calls on the State of Guatemala to expedite the creation of a protection mechanism for journalists 

March 11, 2020 

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 the Guatemalan journalist Bryan Leonel Guerra, who died last Tuesday, March 3 after being the victim of an armed attack on February 27 in Chiquimula, Guatemala.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the State of Guatemala to investigate immediately, completely, effectively, and impartially this crime and others that are unpunished in the country; clarify their motives, and judicially determine the relationship they might have to journalistic activity and freedom of expression. In this regard, the Office remembers that it is essential that the State prioritizes the creation and implementation of a protection mechanism for journalists in the country.

Guerra remained hospitalized for five days, due to the seriousness of the gunshot wounds after the attack on February 27, when he was driving a motorcycle and was reportedly shot from a car by strangers. On March 3, the journalist died at the Regional Hospital of Chiquimula, located 98 km east of Guatemala City, where the 24-year-old communicator lived and worked on the TLCOM cable television news. Guerra was also vice president of the Social Communicators Network [Red de Comunicadores Sociales].

According to the Association of Guatemalan Journalists (APG) Guerra had denounced he had received death threats via social networks, but neither the National Civil Police nor the Attorney General’s Office would have acted in this regard. The State of Guatemala, for its part, indicated to this Office that the journalist had not filed any complaint concerning death threats before the competent authorities. The Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists of the Attorney General’s Office of Guatemala reported that it is currently investigating the murder and would be examining the incident.

The Prosecutor's Office for Human Rights (PDH) condemned the murder and explained that the delegates of the departmental auxiliary of the PDH verified the medical care provided to Guerra, interviewed his relatives, and opened a file to follow up on the case.

The IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur observe that in Guatemala there is a high-risk context for practicing the profession and high rates of impunity regarding crimes against journalists in the exercise of professional work; The Office of the Special Rapporteur has documented the murder of around 17 journalists in the country between 2015 and 2018. There is little progress in the investigations and in the identification of those responsible for these murders.

According to the information available, these crimes against journalists would be linked to gang activities, drug trafficking, or corruption investigations; one of the few cases clarified also revealed collusion between local political actors and organized crime. The most recurrent crimes are registered in vulnerable populations away from the capital where communicators receive attacks which are not reported due to the absence of the authorities.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur took note that Guatemala installed a body to carry out risk analysis regarding possible attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and trade unionists. Likewise, the new government is also said to have committed itself to complete a public policy for the protection of human rights defenders.

Nevertheless, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur’s Office urges the State of Guatemala to establish a special mechanism for the protection of journalists that allows the State to face the structural and serious situation of violence against journalists and media workers in the country, a recommendation made on different occasions by the IACHR. In this regard, it asks the Guatemalan State to expedite the creation of said mechanism and ensure that its content is in accordance with international parameters and that it is established in effective and comprehensive consultation with civil society organizations, journalists, and media workers.

Based on the inter-American doctrine and jurisprudence, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterate to the Guatemalan State, in relation to violence and attacks on journalists and the media, the importance of complying comprehensively with the three positive obligations arising from the rights to life, personal integrity, and freedom of expression, namely: the obligation to prevent, the obligation to protect, and the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and criminally punish those responsible for these crimes.

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have repeatedly referred to the chilling effect of crimes against journalists and other media professionals, as well as for citizens who intend to report abuses of power or illegal acts of any nature.

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states: "[t]he 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 for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.