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Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales detained

Status: 
Under house arrest
About the situation

On 18 December 2017, journalist and indigenous rights defender Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales was allowed to return home under house arrest following a hearing of his case. He had been in detention since 11 November 2017.

About Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales

jerson_antonio_xitumul_morales.jpgJerson Antonio Xitumul Morales is a human rights defender and journalist at Prensa Comunitaria (Community Press). Prior to his detention, he had been reporting on the situation in El Estor, where the indigenous Maya-Q’eqchi' community opposes the effects of mining activities in the region which are polluting Izabal lake and its surroundings, affecting the communities there and endangering their livelihood. The human rights defender was also supporting communities in the area in their efforts to protect their land. Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales is currently facing charges of “threats”, “incitement to commit crimes” and “illegal detention of another person”, a charge related to a peaceful protest in May 2017 during which the community of El Estor closed a road.

22 December 2017
Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales under house arrest

On 18 December 2017, journalist and indigenous rights defender Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales was allowed to return home under house arrest following a hearing of his case. He had been in detention since 11 November 2017.

Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales is a human rights defender and journalist at Prensa Comunitaria (Community Press). Prior to his detention, he had been reporting on the situation in El Estor, where the indigenous Maya-Q’eqchi' community opposes the effects of mining activities in the region which are polluting Izabal lake and its surroundings, affecting the communities there and endangering their livelihood. The human rights defender was also supporting communities in the area in their efforts to protect their land. Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales is currently facing charges of “threats”, “incitement to commit crimes” and “illegal detention of another person”, a charge related to a peaceful protest in May 2017 during which the community of El Estor closed a road.

On 18 December 2017, Puerto Barrios’ Penal Court on Drug-Related Activity and Environmental Crimes held a hearing on Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales’ case. During the hearing, the defence asked the judge to implement substitutive measures rather than preventive detention during the trial. The judge allowed the human rights defender to see out his trial under house arrest but prohibited him from leaving the country, and instructed him to attend scheduled court dates and pay bail of 5000 quetzales (approximately €575). On the payment of the bail amount, he was transferred to his house.

On 21 July 2017, Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales and members of Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales – GPA (Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild), including Juan Eduardo Caal Suram, Eduardo Bin Poou, Tomas Che Cual, Cristobal Pop Coc, Vicente Rax Pop, Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub, were informed that a criminal case was being brought against them. On 11 August 2017, the Judge of the Criminal, Drug-Related Activity and Environmental Crimes’ Court of the Izabal department issued warrants for their arrest.

The Guatemalan government has continuously failed to comply with international and national legislation along with judicial decisions demanding it to respect the rights of indigenous communities. This arrest follows a systematic pattern of harassment of environmental, land and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders in Guatemala, including of Lesbia Artola, Lolita Chavez, Abelino Chub Caal and Angélica Choc.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the ongoing criminalisation of human rights defenders reporting on pollution in El Estor, as it is believed that it is solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights. Front Line Defenders urges the authorities of Guatemala to immediately and unconditionally release Jerson Antonio Ximul Morales and drop all charges against him and members of GPA.

14 November 2017
Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales detained in Izabal

On 11 November 2017, journalist and indigenous rights defender, Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, was detained in El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala. The human rights defender has been targeted in a process of criminalisation of people who struggle for the preservation of the environment in El Estor.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

On 21 July 2017, Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales and members of Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales – GPA (Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild), including Juan Eduardo Caal Suram, Eduardo Bin Poou, Tomas Che Cual, Cristobal Pop Coc, Vicente Rax Pop, Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub, along with journalists reporting on the pollution in El Estor and its surroundings, were informed that a criminal case was being brought against them. On 11 August 2017, the Judge of the Criminal, Narcoactivity and Environmental Crimes’ Court of the Izabal department issued warrants for their arrest. The human rights defenders have been charged with threats, incitement to commit crimes, illicit association, unlawful assembly and demonstrations, damages to private property, and illegal detention. The charges were levelled following false complaints and accusations made by executives of Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel – CGN (Guatemalan Nickel Company), whose activities are contributing to the pollution and environmental damage in El Estor.

On 27 May 2017, the Guatemalan government unilaterally abandoned negotiations with GPA, which were organised in an attempt to find a solution to the problems of the community caused by mining activities and pollution. The Guatemalan government has continuously failed to comply with international and national legislation along with judicial decisions demanding it to respect the rights of indigenous communities.

This is the latest arrest in a series of detentions and violations aimed to hinder the work of human rights defenders in the region. On 27 May 2017, Carlos Maaz Coc was shot dead by the National Civil Police Riot Unit during a peaceful demonstration carried out against the mining activities in El Estor. Front Line Defenders has also previously reported on the arbitrary detention of Juan Eduardo Caal Suram on 11 October 2017, charged based on false accusations in the same case as Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales. On 4 February 2017, Abelino Chub Caal, an indigenous Maya-Q’eqchi' defender, was detained and falsely charged with aggravated land grabbing, arson, coercion, illicit association, and belonging to illicit armed groups. He remains in detention as he waits for his case to be judged.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the arrest of human rights defender Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, as well as the ongoing criminalisation of indigenous rights defenders, members of GPA and journalists reporting on pollution in the region.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Guatemala to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, as Front Line Defenders believes that he is being held solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

2. Immediately drop all charges against Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, and members of GPA Eduardo Bin Poou, Tomas Che Cual, Cristobal Pop Coc, Vicente Rax Pop, Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub, Juan Eduardo Caal Suram, along with the reporting journalists, as it is believed that the charges are solely related to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

3. Take all necessary measures, in consultation with the defenders, to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of El Estor Maya-Q’eqchi' communities, including members of GPA;

4. Cease targeting all human rights defenders in Guatemala and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.