The Honorable Thelma Aldana
15 avenida 15-16 Zona 1, Edificio Gerona 8º Nivel
Ciudad de Guatemala, 01001 Guatemala
December 12, 2017
By email: [email protected]
Dear Attorney General Thelma Aldana,
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent press freedom organization, asks you to release immediately and drop all charges against Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, a journalist currently detained in the province of Izabal.
Local police arrested Xitumul, a reporter with the independent digital media outlet Prensa Comunitaria, on November 11. The journalist had been covering a local fishermen guild's protests in the area against the Guatemalan Nickel Company since early 2017, and now faces multiple criminal charges tied to his protest coverage, as CPJ has reported here.
The judge for the Trial Court of First Instance in El Estor, Edgar Aníbal Arteaga López, on August 11 issued an arrest warrant for Xitumul and another Prensa Comunitaria reporter, Carlos Choc, as well as five people allegedly involved with the protests. The warrant charged them with making threats, incitement to commit crimes, illicit association, illegal protests, damages, and illegal detention.
On November 16, following Xitumul's arrest, Judge Arteaga admitted three of the August charges and remanded the journalist into custody.
Police then transferred Xitumul to the Preventive Detention Center for Men and Women in the city of Puerto Barrios where he is currently being held in pre-trial custody. His next hearing is scheduled for February 2018.
The complaints alleged that Xitumul was involved in protests on May 4 and 5, 2017, during which protesters blocked roads and allegedly restricted the free movement of employees of the mining company and their family members, according to a letter the company sent to CPJ.
According to his colleagues and individuals consulted by CPJ, Xitumul was in Livingston, another town in the region, on May 4, meaning there was no way he could have been present at the protests, much less participate in them. The journalist was reporting on the demonstrations on May 5, but did not take part in them.
CPJ requests the Attorney General's Human Rights Section review the charges against Xitumul, and allow him to remain free pending his trial. There is no justification for Xitumul's continued detention or the charges against him. A journalist doing his job, as Xitumul was, should not be viewed as a threat to public safety.
Furthermore, Judge Arteaga's failure to refer the case to a press tribunal, pursuant to the freedom of expression law, Article 35, of the Guatemalan Constitution, also violates Xitumul's right to due process.
CPJ has documented a rise in violent attacks and threats against the press in Guatemala, and most notably against local reporters, and finds this trend deeply concerning. We urge you to make sure the country's judiciary does not become a mechanism for retaliation against journalists, like Xitumul, who report critically on matters of public interest.
CPJ calls on Guatemala's Public Ministry, the Attorney General and the Attorney General's Human Rights Section to uphold the Guatemalan constitution and protect press freedom by conducting a thorough investigation into the penal process to date against Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, drop all charges against him, and immediately release him from prison.