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Photo: Daniel Pascual via Peoples Dispatch

Guatemalan organizations denounce political persecution of Indigenous leader Daniel Pascual

Peoples Dispatch January 14, 2020

Zoe PC

Daniel Pascual, who is appearing as a defendant in a defamation case on Tuesday, has faced constant attacks because of his work to defend human rights and Indigenous and peasant communities in Guatemala.

The legal process against Guatemalan Indigenous leader and human rights defender Daniel Pascual is set to begin on January 14, Tuesday. Pascual who is internationally recognized for his work in the Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC) has been charged with defamation, slander and injury by Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, the son of a former general and minister of the interior during the rule of war criminal and dictator Ríos Montt.

Social movements and organizations in Guatemala and the region alleged that the legal process, rife with irregularities and violations, is a clear case of persecution with political and racist motivations.

The case

The case goes back to June 10, 2013, when Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, president of the Foundation Against Terrorism, pressed formal charges against Daniel Pascual for defamation, slander and injury. The charges are linked to statements that Pascual made during a press conference about an assassination attempt against him in San Juan Sacatepéquez amid conflicts over the construction of a cement plant in the municipality.

In the press conference, Pascual had revealed details about this assassination attempt and death threats he had received. These were part of a general trend of attacks and intimidation against Indigenous leaders in various areas of the country where there are extractive projects. This campaign of persecution, he noted, also included information and media attacks where columnists and dubious organizations such as the Foundation Against Terrorism, which he classifies as “pseudo clandestine organizations,” shared false information about him and other leaders.

Following this press meet, Méndez Ruiz filed the penal lawsuit with the fundamental piece of evidence being an edited video taking the words spoken by Pascual in the press conference out of context. The judge overseeing the case did not compare the heavily edited video with the original declarations from the press conference or the unedited video in order to verify the veracity of the claims, the first of many irregularities in this case.

Pascual’s defense team, as well as the CUC and other organizations, have pointed out that in accepting the case in a penal court, the judge violated the Constitutional Law of Free Sharing of Thought which outlines that in case of grievances, the case can be dealt with in the Press Tribunal. When this violation was presented before the court as grounds for the case to be removed from the penal court, the judge refused. This same judge soon announced that she would not continue with the case and declared that it was because Daniel Pascual and his defense team were not litigating in accordance with the law and that her personal integrity was at risk, though the real reason was because she retired.

The judge who took over the case summoned Pascual to court and warned that if he did not appear, he would declare him in contempt and would order his immediate detention, a warning that seems out of proportion given the consistent fulfillment of all court directives by Pascual.

In 2016, the defense team presented a legal resource to the Constitutional Court and by June 7, 2016, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the penal process but it was reactivated in 2019.

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