Guatemala Free Press-Justice for Raul Figueroa Sarti

August 18, 2009

PEN PRESS RELEASE: Crackdown on Free Expression in Guatemala threatens Publisher of Books on Genocide and Human Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 12:05 pm

For Immediate Release:  August 18, 2009

Crackdown on Free Expression in Guatemala threatens Publisher of
Books on Genocide and Human Rights

Human rights advocates and writers throughout the Americas, including the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, are condemning the conviction by a Guatemalan court of independent publisher Raúl Figueroa Sarti.  Figueroa Sarti is currently under house arrest after being sentenced on August 6th to a year in prison and a heavy fine on trumped up copyright-violation charges.  Expressing fear that the loss of his publishing house will “gravely impact” Central American literature, social science, and political commentary, advocates and writers urge the Guatemalan attorney general to reverse the attempt to silence a powerful voice of dissent and ensure the physical safety of Mr. Figueroa.

“Another human rights defender is under attack in Guatemala – this time a defender of the right to ideas, free thought and free expression,” said Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington.  “The outrageous conviction of Figueroa is part of a frightening pattern of harassment and intimidation targeting the publisher.”

Figueroa’s press, F & G Editores, is the leading publisher of books that spark political and social debate in Central America. These include the 12-volume report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), the Guatemalan truth commission established by the Oslo Accords, as well as a number of other books detailing human rights abuses during the civil war, and in the present day.  These include works by the Myrna Mack Foundation, the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, the National Union of Guatemalan Women, and the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM).

It was this bravery that first introduced Figueroa to his wife, Dr. Victoria Sanford.  An American citizen who is a professor of anthropology at Lehman College and CUNY’s Graduate Center, Sanford has spent decades studying genocide, corruption, and violence against women in Guatemala. They became acquainted in 2003, when Figueroa was the only publisher in Guatemala brave enough to publish one of Sanford’s books, Violencia y Genocidio en Guatemala (Violence and Genocide in Guatemala).  The couple’s professional relationship developed into a personal one, and they were married in 2005.  Sanford lives in New York with the couple’s daughter, Valentina.

Now Figueroa and F & G Editores are paying the price of bravery: a politically-motivated prosecution on charges of copyright violation.   The charges were brought by government employee and sometime-author and photographer Mardo Arturo Escobar, who accused Figueroa of publishing his photograph as cover art on a 2006 novel without permission.  Though Escobar initially claimed to have learned of the photograph’s use when he saw the book in a shop window, he recanted his charges when faced with evidence that he himself was the one who had initiated the image’s publication. Eventually, he admitted on the record that no crime had taken place, and stipulated for the court that he had given F & G Editores permission to use the image.

The prosecution was undeterred by that development, however, and pressed on with the case.  Figueroa was convicted on August 6th, and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 quetzales. (Approximately $6,000 U.S. dollars).  Though authorities suspended his prison sentence in exchange for an additional fine of 25 quetzals per day, they have placed him under house arrest.

“This conviction shows the corruption of the judicial system as well as the great fragility of Guatemalan democracy and citizen rights of expression that are easily usurped,” explains Figueroa.  “It reveals the criminalizing strategy used by those who do not care about peace or justice.”

According to the Washington Office on Latin America, “WOLA believes that the exculpatory evidences shows that Mr. Figeroa’s sentence lacks firm legal backing,” states WOLA Senior Associate for Citizen Security Adriana Beltran. “We encourage the corresponding authorities in Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office to support his appeal.”

Figueroa’s family, friends, and colleagues are gravely concerned for his physical safety. According to Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, “This is clearly a corrupt attempt to silence and break Guatemala’s most courageous editor publisher, cynically disguised as a proper legal proceeding.  In Guatemala, political assassinations – and the sentence against Raúl is a new kind of Guatemalan ‘assassination’ – are often sinister works of theater, with complicit judges playing supporting or even starring roles.” Doyle at the National Security Archive agrees: “Guatemalan authorities must not only reverse this travesty masquerading as a legal decision, but take immediate steps to guarantee Figueroa’s physical security.”

This conviction is a worrying new chapter in Guatemala’s history of repression and violence, in which citizens with the audacity to speak truth to power have been jailed, attacked, or worse. “Raúl Figueroa Sarti’s persecution by the Guatemalan government speaks not only to the fragility of free expression but also to the power of his work. His many friends and colleagues in the world of publishing are watching this case closely—concerned for his safety and for the health of F&G Editores,” explained Marc Favreau, editorial director of The New Press.

Sixty-five Central American writers have issued a letter of support, condemning the prosecution as “an attack on F & G Editores” that “would gravely impact the development of Central American presses and, as a result, the creation of literary texts.”  The writers urge the Guatemalan government to reverse the conviction and free Figueroa, so that this episode “will pass on in history only as a failed attempt to violate the liberty of creativity and the expression of thought.”  As well, human rights activists throughout the Americas joined in condemning Figueroa’s prosecution.  Iduvina Hernandez, Director of Guatemalan human rights organization SEDEM (Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in a Democracy), has decried the conviction as a “legal monstrosity,” and called for it to be reversed.  A petition circulated by Human Rights First of Washington and New York has been signed by more than 1,500 advocates, scholars, and writers since August 11.

“We are deeply disturbed by this attempt to jail one of Guatemala’s most courageous publishers on spurious copyright infringement charges,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “We are shocked by the court’s refusal to examine the full record and recognize exonerating evidence, and fear the proceedings provided a pretext for silencing both Raúl Figueroa Sarti and F & G Editores. We stand with Mr. Figueroa, and call on Guatemalan authorities to move quickly to reverse this terribly flawed conviction.”

Guatemalan novelist Arturo Arias, who won an Academy Award for screenwriting in 1985, concurs:  “Given the nature of impunity, corruption, blackmail, the dark forces operating behind the cloak of democracy and the rule of law continue to exercise their will in Guatemala in a series of bizarre gestures,” he said, adding, “A decade ago, they assassinated a Human Rights Catholic bishop. Today, they attempt to close the only independent press in Guatemala, the most important publishing outlet for the entire Central American region. We have to act before courageous editor Raúl Figueroa Sarti, who has struggled with perseverance, patience, sacrifice and courage to keep Guatemala’s dissident voices in print, pays for his independence and willingness to work on behalf of human rights issues with jail… or worse. Should his efforts be silenced, Guatemala would recede to the ghastly state of affairs of the 1980s.”

Larry Siems, PEN American Center,

Dr. Victoria Sanford


August 17, 2009

Update August 17, 2009

Central American Writers Statement

New article in Diario de Centro America:

Una sentencia que no termina de convencer a los involucrados

August 16, 2009

Update August 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — figueroafreepress @ 8:40 pm


Two new columns in the Guatemala press:




Prensa Libre: Un juez imparcial (I)

August 15, 2009

Update August 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — figueroafreepress @ 6:09 pm

New today:


Photographers for Justice.  Photographers, please check out the petition in English and Spanish.


Fotógrafos para Justicia  / Photographers for Justice 


International Freedom of Expression eXchange article:

Publisher Sentenced to One Year in Prison

August 14, 2009

PEN International Rapid Action Alert

Filed under: Uncategorized — figueroafreepress @ 3:21 pm


14 August 2009

RAN 34/09

GUATEMALA: Publisher sentenced to one year in prison

raul figueroa

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) protests the one-year prison sentence and fine handed down to publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti on 6 August 2009 for alleged copyright infringement. Figueroa is currently under house arrest and there are concerns for his safety. There are significant concerns that the case against Figueroa has been brought in retaliation for his publication of books on human rights abuses in Guatemala. The WiPC is therefore calling for the case against the publisher to be dropped and for him to be allowed to return to the USA, where he is resident.

On 6 August 2009, a court in Guatemala City sentenced the publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti (F&G Editores) to one year in prison and a 50,000 quetzales (approx. US$6,080) fine for allegedly publishing a photograph on a cover of a novel without the permission of the photographer, Mardo Arturo Escobar. Figueroa denies the charges and the prosecution appears groundless given that, since filing the case, Escobar has reportedly twice admitted that he did in fact give permission for the photo in question to be used. The prison sentence is commutable to a daily fine plus litigation costs, but Figueroa is currently under house arrest and unable to return to the USA, where he and his family live.

Established by Figueroa in 2003, F &G Editores is an internationally acclaimed independent publisher based in Guatemala. It publishes fiction, poetry, social science and legal textbooks and is known for its titles on the human rights and socio-political situation in Guatemala, including the final report of the United Nations-backed Guatemalan Truth Commission (Comisión para el Esclarcimiento Histórico, CEH) and publications for the Myrna Mack Foundation.

According to Figueroa, Escobar – who works for a court of law – approached him in 2006 with some of his photographs and asked F&G Editores to publish them. Figueroa explained that he did not publish photos but agreed to use one of Escobar’s images on the front cover of a forthcoming title (Rafael Menjívar Ochoa’s novel Cualquier forma de morir), and in return to provide Escobar with a credit on the back cover and some copies of the book. This arrangement reportedly went ahead as planned.

In August 2007, nine months after the novel was published, Escobar filed a complaint against Figueroa for copyright infringement with the Public Prosecutor’s office, claiming that he had only found out about the use of the photo when he saw the book in a shop window. At an initial hearing in early 2008, Escobar reportedly acknowledged that he had given verbal permission for the photo to be used but as there was no written contract, he was asking for “compensation” of 72,000 quetzales (approx. US$8,752) in lieu of unpaid copyright fees. Despite this, in November 2008 the court ruled that Figueroa could be criminally prosecuted and banned him from leaving the country without the court’s permission. At another hearing in July 2009, Escobar again admitted that he had authorised the use of a photo but said he had not specified which one. The case went ahead regardless.

Figueroa, who is resident in the USA, remains under house arrest in Guatemala City. Under Guatemalan law, he should reportedly be permitted to return to leave the country while awaiting the outcome of his appeal. However, given the nature of the case, there are fears that he may be prevented from returning to the USA and therefore from seeing his family. His wife and four-year-old daughter live in New York and are unable to travel to Guatemala due to threats issued against his wife there in 2007.


Figueroa’s wife, the academic Victoria Sanford, was reportedly subject to threats and surveillance when conducting field research in Guatemala between March and May 2007 which eventually caused her to leave the country for her safety and that of her daughter. Although Sanford at first suspected that the threats stemmed from her research into human rights issues in Guatemala, she now believes them to be related to the court case against her husband. F &G Editores has published two of Sanford’s books: Violencia y Genocidio en Guatemala (Violence and Genocide in Guatemala) in 2003 and Guatemala: del genocidio al femicidio (Guatemala: from genocide to femicide) in 2008.

According to Sanford, Figueroa has been experiencing interference with his phone lines since July 2009 and his work email has reportedly also been tampered with. Given her own experiences in Guatemala, Sanford fears for her husband’s safety.

Sanford says: “This case is not really about F&G Editores any more than it is about Raúl Figueroa-Sarti. This case is about free speech and judicial corruption. It is about silencing the only independent press in Guatemala and the only press willing to use its resources to publish books that speak truth to power. The response of the powerful is to silence those voices in every way possible. […] If this travesty of justice goes unchallenged, it will make writers and publishers all the more apprehensive to write or publish anything that questions injustice.”

Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the one-year prison sentence and fine handed down to the publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti on 6 August 2009 for alleged copyright infringement;
  • Pointing out that since the plaintiff has reportedly admitted that he gave Figueroa verbal permission to publish his photograph, the prosecution is groundless;
  • Urging the Guatemalan authorities to drop the case against Figueroa, which appears to be political;
  • Expressing concern for Figueroa’s safety and calling for him to be allowed to join his family in the USA, where he is resident.


Appeals to:

Attorney General and Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office

Lic. Amílcar Velázquez Zárate

Fiscal General de la República y Jefe del Ministerio Público

15 calle y 15 avenida zona 1

Edificio Gerona

Guatemala, Guatemala

Fax: +502 2411 9100/ 9124/ 9326

Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Estimado Sr. Fiscal General

Copies to:

General Secretary of Attorney General

Lic. Gloria Porras

Secretaria General

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Leandro Despouy

US Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

United Nations Human Rights Council

Fax: +41 22 917 9006


And/or your nearest Guatemalan Embassy (see

***Please take action immediately. Check with the WiPC if sending appeals after 14 October 2009.***

For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email:


Filed under: Uncategorized — figueroafreepress @ 2:46 pm

by José Saramago

Everyday, everywhere in the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that the problem of justice is not one of justice but of judges. Justice resides in the laws, in the codes, from where it can be readily applied.  Suffice it to know how to read and to understand what is written down, to listen impartially to the allegations of accuser and accused, to the testimony, if there be such, and finally to judge accordingly.  Corruption has a thousand faces, the worst of which, in this case, is, perhaps, to favor or disfavor the connection between who is judging and who is being judged.  A typical case of  miscarriage of justice has taken place just recently in Guatemala where the editor Raúl Figueroa Sarti of the publisher F&G Editores has been condemned  to a year in prison, convertible at the rate of 25 quetzales per day, and a fine of 50,000 quetzales plus court costs.  What was Raúl Figueroa’s crime?  Having published, at the request of the author, Mardo Arturo Escobar, and with his knowledge, a photograph that was included in a book published by F&G Editores.  Several copies of the book were delivered to the photographer, now the plaintiff.  It was of no concern to the judges that Mardo Escobar had himself admitted to having voluntarily turned over a photograph to Raúl Figueroa to whom he gave verbal authorization for its inclusion in a publication.  But, indeed, it did matter to them that the plaintiff was a colleague: Mardo Arturo Escobar worked at the Cuarto Juicio de Sentencia Penal [Fourth Court of Criminal Justice] making him, thereby, their collaborator in the activities of the judges, officers, and magistrates…

But this case is not merely one of run-of-the-mill corruption.  The harassment to which F&G Editores has been subjected for the last two years fits into a pattern of repression  now current in Guatemala where official power persecutes and seeks to silence the voice of opposition of those who go on denouncing the violation of human rights in their country without ever losing heart.  Evidently, there was justification for the trite popular play on words: “Guatemala y Guatepeor.” [Guatemala bad and Guatemala worse].  It is to be hoped that this naive play on words shall not be transformed into a bitter reality for the Guatemalan people.

From El cuaderno de Saramago [Saramaago’s notebook]

August 13, 2009

Four new articles in Guatemala press

Filed under: Uncategorized — figueroafreepress @ 2:05 pm

Four new columns in support of Raul.

Palabras de papel: La sentencia contra Raúl Figueroa Sarti

Ordinaria locura: Incongruencias

El perro aúlla: “¿En su nombre se comete una injusticia?”

La justicia en la mirilla: Tuercen un caso civil para convertirlo en penal.

August 13, 2009

WOLA writes letter of support to Atty. General

The Washington Office on Latin America has written a letter urging Guatemala’s Attorney General to support Raul Figueroa’s appeal for acquittal of his conviction.

Click here for the PDF letter.

August 12, 2009

Appeal for support written by Dr. Victoria Sanford

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 7:40 pm

raul figueroa

My husband Raul was sentenced to a year in prison and a 50,000 quetzal fine for a fabricated offense and is currently unable to leave Guatemala.  Clearly, the goal is to close the only independent press in Guatemala – the only one that has published about genocide, feminicide, organized crime. Now Raul cannot leave Guatemala and I cannot go to Guatemala because of threats. This is a free speech issue.

Raul will be filing an appeal next week.  Under Guatemalan law, he has a right to leave the country with the court’s permission.  When he files his appeal, he will also request permission to leave the country. PEN America, the Washington Office on Latin America and Human Rights First have taken on Raul’s case.

We need a critical mass of support.

Please pass my  letter to anyone you deem appropriate and ask people to write to the US Ambassador at

fax 011-502-2331-2348

Also to the Attorney General in Guatemala (contact info below)

Concretely,this is what we need :

We hope the US Embassy will support Raul in his efforts to get permission from the court to leave Guatemala while he awaits his appeal hearing and that the US Embassy also expresses its deep concern about the miscarriage of justice to Fiscal General Lic. Amílcar Velázquez Zárate.

Specifically, given the irregularities in the proceedings, the Attorney General and Ministerio Publico should vacate the conviction and seek a judgment of acquittal for my husband.

The contact information for the Attorney General is:

Lic. Amílcar Velázquez Zárate

Fiscal General de la República

15 calle y 15 avenida zona 1

Edificio Gerona

Guatemala, Guatemala

fax: (502) 2411 9100

His personal email is not available to the public.

Though copies of any communications should also be sent via email to the General Secretary:

Lic. Amílcar Velázquez Zárate

Fiscal General de la República

Att. Lic. Gloria Porras

Secretaria General

Email messages can also be sent to the general email, but who knows who reads them or if anyone does??

Later this week or early next week, we will be running a campo pagado in the newspapers in Guatemala.

Victoria Sanford, PhD

Chair, Committee for Human Rights

American Anthropological Association

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Lehman College & The Graduate Center

City University of New York

« Newer Posts