Guatemala Free Press-Justice for Raul Figueroa Sarti

August 24, 2009

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

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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.