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Journalism is not a crime

  • The multinational Solway has asked a Guatemalan journalist to remove an interview conducted and published by ARGIA and to pay a “compensation” of 15,000 euros. It threatens us to take the case to court if it did not. ARGIA will not do so, we will not mute and use the attack to demand independent journalism.

20 June 2023 - 10:29
Last updated: 17:28

ARGIA interviewed journalist Paolina Albani from Guatemala on 2822 April. Albani collaborates in Digital Community Press. This independent media focuses on indigenous peoples, women and communities, giving voice to community issues, including land defence.

She arrived in Euskal Herria invited by NGO Mugarik Gabe and journalist Leire Artola of ARGIA interviewed, among other things, an international study they have at hand: Mining Secrets. This study, which began to be published in March 2022, involved 65 journalists. These include, for example, journalists from the Swiss public broadcaster RTS and the newspapers The Guardian, Le Monde and El País. The investigation was based on a filtration of eight million documents: an anonymous informant transmitted thousands of emails, graphs and internal documents of the company about the activity of the multinational Solway.

To illustrate the size of the investigation, it should be noted that this collaboration has been published under the Forbidden Stories project to ensure the safety of journalists. This platform is responsible for promoting the investigation of journalists at risk or threatened. “The death of the journalist will not lead to the death of history” is the motto and the basis of this project. One of those stories is Mining Secrets.

Of these hundreds of thousands of documents, the journalists concluded that they concealed the reports of contamination by the two subsidiaries of the multinational mining company Solway Investment Group, based in Switzerland, in Zug, Guatemala. The company manages the Phoenix mine in El Estor to extract nickel, and the journalists stressed that the multinational had hidden the reports after the pollution of Izabal, the largest lake in the country. The lake appeared reddish spotted with iron smell in 2017, with dead fish found. It must be borne in mind that many inhabitants of El Estor are fishermen and that the lake is essential for their activity.

The researchers warned that Solway had plans to incentivize the survival crops of the Mayan communities living in this area, that he had funds to buy local leaders, that he sent money to the Guatemalan National Police... In other words, the Solway Group used its financial and political resources to make decisions in Guatemala in favor of its interests, according to the filtered documents. Solway denies all the accusations that they are “unfounded.”

The researchers warned that Solway had plans to set fire to the survival crops of the Mayan communities, sent money to the Guatemalan National Police...

The eight million documents are gradually developing and more information on the multinational is expected to be published. It should be noted that many of the journalists and media involved in the Mining Secrets study had previously collaborated with journalists threatened with investigating environmental crimes.

Mayan communities against Solway

The surrounding maia q'eqchi community is against this mining project and has struggled to denounce the company’s “ruthless attitudes”. These citizens fighting for the defence of the Earth see more than a hundred lorries full of minerals passing by their peoples every day and denounce that those who have organized themselves against it have received legal complaints, physical assaults, threats, mass media slander campaigns, espionages... To control the population, the Government of Guatemala has established an emergency situation in El Este that has been militarized.

Protests against the Phoenix Mine intensified in 2017, when Lake Izabal was spotted reddish. Photo: Carlos Choc / Community Press.
Persecuted by the Guatemalan media

Journalist Paolina Albani highlighted this case in the ARGIA interview. He highlighted Solway's media behavior: He said that he had bought the main media in Guatemala and that he was harassing the media and the journalists leaving the official speech.

Journalists who have had the courage to publish information about the multinational have repeatedly denounced that they have received prison and death threats for being informed. The case of community journalist Carlos Choc maia q'eqchi, who had international recognition in media like The Guardian and El País is significant: He gave a voice to the citizens who protested against the Solway branch, and reported in the Community Press of the fisherman Carlos Maaz, killed in the hostilities of the demonstration, denouncing that since then he has suffered continuous criminalization and persecution and has been forced to live underground. Albani told all this in the ARGIA interview to report that they are criminalized for informing journalists from independent media in Guatemala.

They ask us to remove the interview from the network, to pay the “compensation” of EUR 15,000 and the cost of the work of lawyers

Another example of the situation of Guatemalan journalists is José Rubén Zamora. José Rubén Zamora is known for bringing corruption cases to light. Twenty-first Century, media founder El Periodico and Our Journal, was imprisoned in July 2022, five days after the appearance of a corruption case related to president Alejandro Giammattei. He has been sentenced to six years in prison and 300,000 Guatemalan ketzals (EUR 35,000) for money laundering. Zamora is a prestigious investigative journalist who has received many awards and awards.

According to the Guatemalan organization Udefegua, in 2021 there were 1,002 attacks on people, communities and organizations that defend human rights in Guatemala, with social communicators being the most criminalized. According to the Guatemalan Association of Journalists, since the beginning of the Giammattei government, there have been 350 attacks on press freedom. The next elections will be held on 25 June.

Land defenders in El Estor denounce the militarization of the area. Photo: Community Press.
Now, ARGIA is also in the spotlight.

The lawyers' office of the multinational Solway in the Spanish state has contacted ARGIA and asked us what we consider a threat: They ask us to remove the interview with journalist Paolina Albani from the network, as well as the “compensation” of EUR 15,000 and the cost of the work of lawyers. If they fail to do so, they threaten to bring the case to court by imputing defamation.

We have not been the only ones. As we know, Solway sued the French newspaper Le Monde in 2020, and Forbidden Stories, and non-governmental organizations alerted Solway that he was trying to “silence journalists who were reporting their illegal practices.”

The study reveals that Solway contaminated Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala, hiding the report. Photo: Community Press.

Members Without Borders are familiar with the case of the El Estor mine through the Community Press and confirm that the threat of journalists is part of a major strategy: “The strategy is to strengthen the media that dare to tell what is happening in the East. Now you've moved to ARGIA, then another -- you want to create fear. If they do, journalists will have more doubts when deciding to report similar cases,” the NGO warns. But why the LIGHT? “They have other ways to reach larger media and it’s easier for them to control what’s published,” Mugarik Gabe explains.

Regrettably, there is an increasing number of complaints that seek to influence the work of journalists and the media, and a condemnable practice known in English as SLAPP is spreading. The term was invented in the 1980s by professors at the University of Denver to define harassment and intimidation against people acting under the protection of the public interest.

Some companies, authorities and multinationals employ lawyers from various countries to silence critical voices through judicial complaints between media and journalists to provoke fear, censorship or self-censorship.

Should a multinational order in ARGIA what we can interview and which can't?

Journalism is not a crime

We understand that it is a direct attack on our communication project and on the entire community that underpins ARGIA, putting freedom of expression and the right to information of citizens at the centre of the spotlight. They do not want different versions of the subject to be disseminated, and that is why they have opposed what has led to the words of Albani.

We want to respond publicly to this multinational that earns millions a year: we are not going to eliminate the dialogue. We will not pay for money. We will continue to report on the issue and use your threat to publicly underline the need for independent journalism in Euskal Herria, Guatemala and anywhere.

Should a multinational order in ARGIA what we can interview and which can't?

If you punish ARGIA, you will also lose the environmental defenders around the world and all the media. For this reason, we ask the members of the ARGIA community, our readers and the journalistic sector to support journalistic independence in the community. That will serve to respond jointly and aloud to individual and secret threats, only then will we succeed in stopping.

We do not accept these aggressive behaviors that seek to increase the transformative character of journalism. ARGIA will continue to report as before. This is not the first time we have been attacked by ARGIA and ARGIA journalists, but as we want it to be the last, we will take the defence of our profession as far as necessary. We have already contacted a group of lawyers specialised in dealing with SLAPP cases in Europe and have reported on our case.

Solidarity with the members of Guatemala

We want to show ARGIA’s solidarity with the community press in Guatemala and the journalist Paolina Albani. And also send the greatest hug and support of his colleagues to the peoples who defend the land in Guatemala and all the journalists persecuted. The fact that Solway reaches us and is able to threaten us gives credibility to the complaints of local journalists.

We will say it out loud whenever necessary: journalism is not a crime. They will not silence us.

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