The Rapporteurship condemns the murder of two journalists in Guatemala and calls on the State to investigate the facts with due diligence

January 5, 2024

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR condemns the murder of journalists César Agusto Leiva Pimentel and Gleymer Renan Villeda, which occurred on December 21 in the department of Jutiapa and Izabal respectively, and urges the State of Guatemala to investigate the crimes with due diligence, clarify their possible relationship with journalistic activity and identify and punish those responsible.  

 According to available information, on December 21, in the early hours of the morning, unknown subjects on a motorcycle shot journalist and broadcaster César Agusto Leiva Pimentel with a firearm in the vicinity of the Villa Hermosa neighborhood, department of Jutiapa, as he was on his way to his place of work. The journalist's body was found dead inside the vehicle and had gunshot wounds in different parts of his body, according to local media. Leiva worked for La Red radio station and had recently been elected president of the Association of Jutiapa Radio Broadcasters (ALJ). According to public information, some of the journalist's work items were found at the crime scene, including his cell phone, a computer CPU and two digital cameras.

 In addition, on the same day, journalist Gleymer Renan Villeda was the victim of a fatal armed attack while driving his vehicle in the village of Navojoa, municipality of Morales, Izabal department. Villeda managed the news website Impacto Izabal.  

The State of Guatemala regretted the deaths of journalists César Augusto Leiva Pimentel and Gleymer Renan Rojas Villeda, and ratified its commitment to promote the corresponding investigations in order to identify those responsible for the events, considering the work they were doing. Likewise, he informed that in both cases proceedings have been carried out, including testimonial statements, expert reports, searches, house inspections and searches, among others. In the case of the murder of Gleymer Villeda, he indicated that there are two people accused.  

The Office of the Special Rapporteur notes that in Guatemala there is still a context of high risk for the practice of journalism and high levels of impunity for crimes against journalists in the exercise of their professional work. In its last annual report, this Office warned that journalists and media outlets that investigate matters of public interest, especially corruption, irregularities in public administration and human rights violations, are often targets of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, and harassment campaigns on social networks and judicial prosecution.  

In this regard, the Rapporteurship views with great concern that during 2023 five journalists were murdered in the country. In addition to César Agusto Leiva and Gleymer Renan Villeda, the murders of Eduardo Fernando Mendizábal, in Guatemala City, and of Edin Alonso and Hugo Gutiérrez, in the department of Retalhuleu, were reported.  

In this regard, the Guatemalan State stressed that it is making every effort to prevent violence against journalists, recognizing the fundamental value of freedom of expression in the democratic system.  

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states that "[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”.  

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have referred to the intimidating effect that crimes against journalists have on other media professionals, as well as on citizens who seek to denounce abuses of power or illicit acts of any nature. This intimidating effect can only be avoided, according to the Commission, “through decisive action by the State to punish those responsible, as is its obligation under international and domestic law”.  

The Special Rapporteurship calls on the Guatemalan State to fully, effectively and impartially investigate these crimes, clarify their motives, and judicially determine the relationship they may have with journalistic activity and freedom of expression. The authorities should not rule out the practice of journalism as a motive for the murder and/or aggression before the investigation is completed.  

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.          

No. R010/24

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