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Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales

Prensa Comunitaria (Community Press)

Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales is a human rights defender and journalist at Prensa Comunitaria (Community Press). He was recently covering 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’ and endangering their livelihood. The journalist was documenting the pollution and supporting the communities in their effort to protect their land.

Since Otto Pérez Molina assumed the role of President in January 2012, cases of harassment and threats against HRDs have been on the rise. Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatisation, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and killings. Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for HRDs.

A serious issue is the unfair use of criminal proceedings in order to prevent HRDs from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. Many criminal proceedings are launched by private companies (often backed by European and North American governments) related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, spuriously accusing HRDs of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, kidnappings and others. As part of the criminalisation process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatisation have been carried out by both state and non-state actors, particularly transnational companies and right-wing media publications. State authorities continue to publish statements and press releases in which they publicly incriminate HRDs on unverified charges.