Criminalizing Human Rights: August 17th hearing continues the campaign to discredit journalist Anastasia Mejía and other women defenders from Joyabaj, Quiché.

Today’s hearing will determine whether the Public Prosecutor’s Office can continue the case against Maya K’iche’ journalist, Anastasia Mejía, as well as Petrona Siy Castro, Sebastiana Pablo Hernández, Micaela Solis, and Tomasa Pastor. All are facing charges related to protests that took place outside of the Joyabaj municipality building on August 24, 2020.  

Officers from the Specialized Investigative Division (DEIC) as well National Civil Police arbitrarily arrested Mejía on September 22 of last year. Without being promptly brought before a judge, as required under Guatemalan law, she was held in the women’s prison in Quetzaltenango for 36 days before posting bail and being moved to house arrest. Sebastiana Pablo remains imprisoned after ten months, in spite of a lack of evidence against her. 

Charges of sedition, aggravated assault, arson, and aggravated robbery were lodged by Joyabaj Mayor Florencio Carrascoza Gomez. Carrascoza is one of the politicians included in the “Engel List,”  which identifies government actors who are denied entry visas to the United States because they are “engaged in significant corruption and the undermining of democratic institutions.” Carrascoza, according to the US State Department, has undermined democratic processes or institutions “by intimidating and unjustly imprisoning political opponents.”

This is not the first time Mejía faces trumped-up charges from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Joyabaj; attempts to criminalize her began in 2016. Her career as a journalist, as well as her term as a Municipal Councilor from 2015-2019, often put her at odds with the mayor, but her anti-corruption investigation of the municipality of Joyabaj made her a target. She found evidence of the embezzlement of public funds funneled through overvalued projects contracted to ghost companies–and patterns of violence against women–in the ten-year administration of Carrascoza. In return, the mayor treated her with hostility, refused to share public information with her, denied her credentials as a journalist, and openly used racial slurs against her.            

In 2016, Mejía submitted several complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office regarding verbal and physical attacks against her, in addition to participating with other women in the filing of 24 criminal complaints against Carrascoza for violence against women, fraud, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment. The Public Prosecutor’s Office stalled legal proceedings and five years later no ruling on any of the complaints has been made.          

Meanwhile, the charges filed by Carrascoza against Mejía and the others continue to move forward with the cooperation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and without due process. By law, a preliminary hearing must take place within 24 hours of arrest, but Mejía did not receive a preliminary hearing for 29 days. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor’s Office failed to conduct a preliminary investigation, imprisoning these defendants without proper evidence.

When asked about her case, Mejía told our team, “Justice is very selective.  I’m indigenous and a woman, so who will listen to me?” She continued, “They’re in control of everything: the prosecution, the judges, the witnesses. They are doing this to keep me quiet, to stop me.” 

While the Biden administration temporarily shut off funding to the Public Prosecutor’s Office after the illegal removal of the head of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), Francisco Sandoval, defenders like Mejía and the others accused continue to face persecution at the hands of a system co-opted by corruption.   

Today’s hearing will determine whether or not the Public Prosecutor’s Office can continue with the case. The GHRC team in Guatemala will accompany the defenders and continue monitoring the deteriorating situation. We at GHRC are increasingly concerned for the safety of defenders, journalists, and civil society groups in Guatemala and condemn the weaponization of the criminal justice system, as well as the recent attacks on the independence of the  judiciary.

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