28 journalists attacked with pepper spray in Guatemala

By Norma Garza

Media outlets in Guatemala protested against authorities for the pepper spray attacks that 28 journalists suffered in two occasions while trying to interview Roberto Barreda -- the son of former Chief Justice Beatriz de León -- who is accused of the disappearance and murder of his wife Cristina Siekavizza in 2011, Cerigua reported.

After his capture in Yucatán, Mexico, the most wanted fugitive of the Guatemalan justice system was transferred to Guatemala City, where the first hearing of his trial began on Nov. 13. At the end of the hearing, the press concentrated on getting statements from Barreda outside of the court building.

Barreda's guardians, members of the National Civil Police, tried to stop the press from getting close, and one of them sprayed pepper gas in order to disperse the journalists, Siglo 21 reported.

Four days earlier, another group of journalists were attacked with pepper spray when the authorities transferred Barreda to the courts. Some journalists had to be attended to for their injuries on the location, Cerigua informed.

Mauricio López Bonilla, Guatemala's Secretary of Interior, offered his apologies for the incident. Those who were attacked presented a complaint before the District Attorney's Office of Human Rights of the Public Ministry and the Office of Professional Responsibility of the National Civil Police, who have been investigating the incident over the course of 48 hours in order to allocate responsibility for the actions, Emisoras Unidas and Prensa Libre reported.

Illeana Alamilla, the coordinator of the Observatory of Journalists, also protested before the Human Rights Unit of the Ministry of Interior. Alamilla pointed out that "someone should answer for these actions; there has to be someone responsible for these violations of human rights and the appropriate punishment must be applied so that these actions will not continue to occur," Cerigua reported.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.