Guatemala Free Press-Justice for Raul Figueroa Sarti

September 1, 2009

New Column in Huffington Post

Daring Guatemalan Publisher Convicted on Trumped-Up Charge

“A courageous Guatemalan publisher risks spending a year in jail for printing a photograph of a dog – such a trivial, dubious charge that it seems meant to interfere with his work of printing pathbreaking books.”  Read the rest in Huffington Post.

August 24, 2009

UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF OPINION AND EXPRESSION

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 7:11 pm

 

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

Violation of the right to freedom of expression in the case of Mr. Raúl Figueroa Sarti

The conviction handed down by the Seventh Court of Criminal Jurisdiction against Mr. Raul Figueroa Sarti in the proceedings initiated by the Court’s Official Mardo Escobar and the Prosecutor’s Office for Violation of Intellectual Property Rights, is clearly a violation Mr. Figueroa Sarti’s right to freedom of expression, and it also significantly limits the activities of F&G Editores.

 

The fact, a relatively insignificant one, is the use of a photograph owned by Mr. Escobar and used for the cover of a book and published by the aforementioned publishing house. This act is allegedly a copyright violation. Although Mr. Escobar already testified in the proceedings that he verbally authorized Mr. Figueroa Sarti to use the aforementioned photograph, and for this reason, the accusation is groundless. Mr. Escobar initiated a civil action suit that was later disregarded. Thus the decision on the part of the public prosecutor and the Seventh Court of Criminal Jurisdiction to take this groundless case so seriously is incomprehensible.

 

It is surprising that such a groundless case occasions so much activity and human resources  from the public prosecutor and the Seventh Court of Criminal Jurisdiction when at the same time, so many violent cases end in impunity. The only conclusion we can draw is that the photograph is an excuse, and this criminal proceeding is in fact a mechanism of intimidation against a publishing house that has maintained a critical publishing trajectory and has published materials about human rights violations. Consequently, this intimidation constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression on the part of the Guatemalan Government, and in particular is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Guatemala is a signatory.

 

One of the fundamental principles of the freedom of expression is to eliminate, or minimize the use of criminal law to restrict or to sanction forms of expression. This is because such criminal law mechanisms can be easily utilized by the state as a form of censorship or persecution of opinions, or to affect economic interests. 

 

By virtue of the aforementioned, we respectfully request that the Guatemala government address this situation, and, in particular, we request that the Court of Appeals, which will evaluate the case, expose the irregularities in the proceedings in order to address them, since they represent a bad precedent for the country in the matter of human rights and freedom of expression.

 

To Mr. Figueroa Sarti and the staff in F&G Editores, we recognize and support their struggle as victims and as human rights defenders. 

 

Finally, this Rapporteur urges the Guatemalan government, its Justice System, and the entire population to reflect upon these facts, to uncover the true motives for these actions, and to refuse to sanction the use of criminal action as a form of intimidation and censorship.

RELATORIA ESPECIAL SOBRE EL DERECHO A LA LIBERTAD DE OPINION Y EXPRESION DEL CONSEJO DE DERECHOS HUMANOS DE NACIONES UNIDAS

COMUNICADO DE PRENSA

 

Violación al derecho de libertad de expresión en el caso del Sr.  Raúl Figueroa Sarti


La sentencia condenatoria que emitió el Juzgado Séptimo de Sentencia Penal contra el Señor Raúl Figueroa Sarti en el proceso seguido por el Oficial de Tribunales Mardo Escobar y por el Ministerio Público por el delito de Violación a la Propiedad Intelectual, es claramente una violación a la libertad de expresión del Sr. Figueroa Sarti, con el cual también se limitan las actividades de la Editorial F&G.

 

El hecho mismo, relativamente insignificante lo constituye la utilización de una fotografía del Señor Escobar para la portada de un libro publicado por la mencionada Editorial, con lo cual supuestamente se violaban los derechos de autor. Sin embargo, consta en el expediente del caso, el testimonio del Señor Escobar, en el cual él mismo manifiesta haber autorizado de palabra al Señor Figueroa Sarti la utilización de dicha fotografía, por lo que la denuncia misma no tiene razón de ser.  Además el Señor Escobar inició una acción de carácter civil que fue desestimada, por lo que no se comprende, por qué razón el Ministerio Público y el Tribunal Séptimo de Sentencia Penal le dieron tanta relevancia al hecho.

 

Sorprende que en un caso sin mayor fundamento, el Ministerio Público y el Tribunal de Séptimo de Sentencia Penal desplieguen tanta actividad y recursos humanos cuando existen muchos casos de violencia que quedan en la impunidad. La única conclusión a la que se puede  arribar, es que el tema de la fotografía es una excusa y este proceso penal es realmente un mecanismo de intimidación contra una editorial que ha mantenido una trayectoria crítica y  que ha realizado publicaciones sobre violaciones a los derechos humanos.  Por consiguiente, esta intimidación constituye una violación al derecho a la libertad de expresión por parte del Estado de Guatemala en particular del artículo 19 de la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos y los Artículos 19 y 20 del Pacto Internacional sobre de Derechos Civiles y Políticos del cual Guatemala es parte.

 

Uno de los principios fundamentales de la libertad de expresión, es el de eliminar o reducir al mínimo la utilización del Derecho Penal para restringir o sancionar formas indebidas de expresión, en virtud que el mecanismo penal puede fácilmente ser utilizado por parte del Estado como una forma de censura o de persecución por las opiniones o por afectar intereses económicos. 

 

En virtud de lo anterior, respetuosamente solicitamos al Estado de Guatemala corregir esta situación, y en particular a la Sala de Apelaciones que conocerá del caso, que ponga al descubierto los vicios del procedimiento para corregirlos, pues constituyen un mal precedente para el país en materia de derechos humanos y  libertad de expresión.

Al Señor Figueroa Sarti y al Personal de la Editorial F&G, manifestamos nuestro reconocimiento y apoyo en su lucha como víctimas y como defensores de derechos humanos.  

 

Finalmente, esta Relatoría insta al Estado de Guatemala, a su Sistema de Justicia y a toda la población, a reflexionar sobre estos hechos, para descubrir los verdaderos móviles y no permitir la utilización de la acción penal como un acto de intimidación y censura.   

 

August 24: Two new columns

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 6:59 pm

Siglo XXI: HACIA UN PAÍS DE LECTORES

Prensa Libre: Un juez imparcial (y 2)

August 22, 2009

Three new columns in the Guatemalan press

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 2:10 pm

Raul Figueroa in Siglo XXI

Prensa Libre: Censura penal

Siglo XXI: Gremio literario apoya a Figueroa Sarti

El Periodico: Sarti, dimension de lo injusto

August 20, 2009

F & G Editores Press Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — figueroafreepress @ 2:15 am
Click to download video file (about 49 mb, via Megaupload)

Click to download video file (about 49 mb, via Megaupload)

August 18, 2009

More articles in support of Raul’s case

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siglo xxi

More articles from the Guatemalan press:

August 11, 2009:

La Hora — Uno a Uno: Nuevas formas de “terrorismo de Estado”

El Periodico — Los juzgados funcionan: La foto fue utilizada con consentimiento del autor

August 14, 2009:

La Hora — Juicio con extraordinaria diligencia

August 15, 2009:

Prensa Libre — Raúl no está solo

Prensa Libre — Sospechosa eficiencia

Una manera de morder la mano

August 18, 2009:

Siglo XXI — Entre lo Legal y lo Justo: el Caso de Raúl

Open Letter Published in Prensa Libre Guatemala

Click to see large version.

Click to see large version.

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.”

Contacts:
Larry Siems, PEN American Center,

lsiems@pen.org

Dr. Victoria Sanford

victoria.sanford@lehman.cuny.edu

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

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