Freedom of Expression

Press release R258/20

The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers inadmissible the delay in the detention process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquis in a pandemic context and calls on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee her right to personal liberty and due process of law


October 22, 2020


Washington D.C., - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses grave concern over the detention of the indigenous Mayan K'iche journalist, Anastasia Mejía Triquiz, in Guatemala. Likewise, it considers inadmissible the delay of the judicial process for her detention in the context of a pandemic and calls on the State to respect and guarantee her rights to freedom of expression and personal liberty, as well as to guarantee a diligent judicial investigation within a reasonable time.


According to available information, the journalist and director of the Xol Abaj Radio and Xol Abaj TV stations was detained by the Special Criminal Investigation Division (DEIC) of the National Civil Police (PNC) on September 22 in the municipality from Joyabaj, Quiché, and is accused of the crimes of sedition, attempt with specific aggravations, aggravated arson and aggravated robbery. The arrest warrant indicates the crimes on which it is based, but it does not justify the reasons for the arrest. She is currently detained in the Preventive Center for Women in the department of Quetzaltenango. As of the date of issuance of this statement, Anastasia Mejía Triquis has been detained for 31 days -without a pre-trial detention order issued by a competent judge. Likewise, according to information received, her first statement hearing would have been rescheduled on two occasions and the closest prospect for the next hearing would imply her being in detention for at least 37 days, a disproportionate time frame which may become reckless in a pandemic context. The Office of the Special Rapporteur observes these delays and rescheduling with concern because it imposes on the journalist the burden of bearing the deprivation of her liberty due to deficiencies in the functioning of the judicial system that are not attributable to her.


This Office was informed that the arrest of Anastasia Mejía could be linked to her journalistic coverage of a demonstration by residents of Joyabaj against the mayor Francisco Carrascosa on August 24, for alleged favoritism in the delivery of economic aid to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. There, the journalist made a live broadcast of the events through the Facebook page of Xol Abaj TV.


Anastasia Mejía is recognized locally for practicing community journalism on a radio and TV channel, she has denounced alleged acts of corruption within the municipal government of Joyabaj and criticized the local mayor. Likewise, she has repeatedly covered the social mobilizations in the town.


Even though the State has indicated that the judicial guarantees have been respected and that the journalist has the means to challenge them, the Special Rapporteur’s Office reaffirms its concern and recalls that the arrest and the initiation of criminal proceedings against journalists can seriously affect the exercise of freedom of expression and other rights, if these have been initiated as a consequence of the exercise of journalistic work. On various occasions, it has been highlighted that the authorities must ensure the necessary conditions so that journalists can cover events of notorious public interest, such as social protests.


This Office has previously stated that the press plays an essential role in gathering and disseminating information about what happens in protests, as well as in controlling the actions of the State in this context. In a joint statement last June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the IACHR's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression indicated that the authorities must provide media workers the highest degree of protection so that they can perform their work freely.


Although all forms of expression are, in principle, protected by the freedom enshrined in Article 13 of the American Convention, there are certain types of speech that receive special protection, such as political speech and on matters of public interest. The use of criminal law to sanction this type of speech is not only a direct limitation to freedom of expression, but can also be considered an indirect method of restricting expression due to its chilling effect on the free flow of ideas, opinions, and information. The criminalization of a female and indigenous community journalist and the excessive length of her detention can have an intimidating or self-censorship effect on other communicators who also cover issues of public interest, especially those who practice community or independent journalism. On this point, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have recognized that community media in our region play a fundamental role in the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information for different sectors of society.


On April 3, the IACHR referred to the Inter-American Court the case of the Maya Kaqchikel Indigenous Peoples of Sumpango et al. v. Guatemala, which expands on the importance of diversity, inclusion, and pluralism of the community media of indigenous peoples, and which could compromise its international responsibility. Among other aspects, the IACHR highlighted that the use of criminal figures towards those who operate community radio stations constitutes a form of censorship and a disproportionate violation of the freedom of expression of indigenous peoples. This shows that Anastasia Mejía's is not an isolated case, but rather that it appears in a particularly adverse context for the freedom of expression of these groups, in a country where community radio stations -and community journalism in general- take on an heightened relevance for the protection of their rights.


In this regard, the Inter-American Court has established that the unpredictability of the duration of the deprivation of liberty may imply its arbitrariness, especially when the applicable law does not include criteria on the limits of its duration. In addition, it has highlighted that although "the content of the notification will vary according to the progress of the investigations, reaching its maximum point when the formal and definitive presentation of charges takes place, before that and as a minimum, the person under investigation must know in the greatest possible detail the facts attributed to them". For this right to fully operate and satisfy its inherent purposes, it is necessary that such notification occurs before the accused makes their first statement before any public authority. Without this guarantee, the right of the person to properly prepare their defense would be violated.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and personal liberty of Anastasia Mejía, and to guarantee a diligent judicial investigation that respects the right of defense and other guarantees of due process, in accordance with its international obligations.


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.