Aug 30, 2022 - World

Guatemala intensifying crackdown on human rights defenders, group warns

Newspaper publisher José Rubén Zamora (center) in court this month. Photo: Johan Ordóñez/AFP via Getty Images
Newspaper publisher José Rubén Zamora (center) in court this month. Photo: Johan Ordóñez/AFP via Getty Images

A Guatemalan human rights group is warning that the country's government has intensified its crackdown on rights defenders, journalists and judicial workers.

Driving the news: The group, Udefegua, has documented more than 560 attacks, including police brutality and “spurious” and “unfounded” criminal cases.

  • The organization has recorded more than 2,645 such attacks since January 2020, when President Alejandro Giammattei took office.
  • The group documented 1,642 attacks during the entire four-year term of Giammattei's predecessor, Jimmy Morales.

The big picture: The U.S. has added key members of Giammattei's government, including Attorney General Consuelo Porras, to its list of "corrupt and undemocratic actors."

  • The U.S. and rights groups have accused Porras and other officials of obstructing justice, including in anti-corruption investigations. At least 15 judges and district attorneys have gone into exile in the last year after facing threats or attempted imprisonment for their anti-corruption cases against business people and officials.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concerns earlier this year over those judges’ situations.

  • Guterres added to those concerns this month when El Periódico's José Rubén Zamora, publisher of a newspaper that has run several stories uncovering government corruption, was arrested on charges of money laundering. Zamora denies any wrongdoing.
  • Udefegua also highlighted cases of harassment against Indigenous women and student activists by police forces.

What they’re saying: “I thought that we had hit bottom with Jimmy Morales, but no,” Jordán Rodas, the outgoing Guatemalan human rights ombudsman, told AP in mid-August. Giammattei is behaving “like an emperor," Rodas added.

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