Freedom of Expression

Press Release 38/01


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns the attacks on the El Periódico newspaper in Guatemala on February 20, 2001. A group of protesters gathered violently round the entrance to the newspaper, causing serious material damage and physically assaulting journalists from El Periódico and other media outlets covering the story. The group shouted offensive slogans about the newspaper's work and tried to force its way into the building. According to different sources, the protesters identified themselves as supporters of the Minister of Communications and said they were protesting the investigations conducted by the El Periódico and Prensa Libre newspapers into alleged irregularities by the Ministry in the awarding of contracts. The police dispersed the protesters, who threatened to return the next week.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression urges the Guatemalan authorities to investigate and punish the perpetrators of these serious attacks on and threats to freedom of expression and the physical integrity of journalists. It notes that free discussion of ideas and opinions is essential for strengthening democracy.

Finally, the Office recalls that principle nine of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression 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."

Santiago A. Canton
Special Rapporteur for Freedom
of Expression
February 23, 2001
Washington, D.C.