Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guatemala: Stunning charges against leading LGBT rights advocate

Details are sketchy and vary from one account to another but a Guatemalan government agency has brought 'attempted murder' charges against a leading LGBT rights advocate in a case that stems from an attack against a transgender woman last July.

The charges against Jorge López (right), director of the HIV prevention non-governmental agency OASIS, seem ludicrous considering his long-standing efforts as an advocate for transgender folk. At least one human rights organization is calling for an international response demanding an impartial review of the charges brought against him.

The charges: In a news brief, La Hora reports that the Guatemalan Public Ministry released an arrest warrant against López for "his alleged participation in the attack against a transgender on July 4th in Zone 1."

According to Telediaro 3, the Public Ministry alleges that López was among a group of people who beat up a transgender woman so badly that her arms almost had to be amputated.

Prensa Libre, on the other hand, seems to get the facts wrong in reporting that López was accused of murder against a transgender woman found dead on a public street in June of 2008.

López says it's a government vendetta: All three papers report that López surrendered yesterday and defended himself before the media as he made his way into the courthouse.

"As he indicated before entering the courthouse, [López said] he is being pressured by the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Public Ministry (MP), based on accusations he made last September that agents from both institutions attacked six homosexuals", says Telediario 3.

Prensa Libre says that he admitted that there had been a attack against transgender individuals on the date mentioned by the authorities but argues that he was among those who called the authorities to alert them to the attacks (he says he plans to use the phone records as roof of his innocence).

Reports said that he was joined by representatives from international human rights organizations and Guatemala's Human Rights Attorney's office at the court hearing.

International response: So far, the New York based Human Rights First is the first organization to demand a proper review of charges against López. From their statement:
López is the director of a prominent organization that works to protect the rights of transgendered sex workers in Guatemala and he has spent many years advocating for them. He worked closely with the victim and sought police protection for her shortly before the attack. He later submitted complaints about police misconduct against sex workers, shortly before the arrest warrant against him was issued.
They also urge folk to sign on to a statement asking the court to "begin an impartial review of the validity of the charges against him and to close the case against him if there is insufficient evidence."

Sign-on statement: I urge you to join Human Rights First! Click here and demand that justice be served. It certainly looks as if the Guatemalan government is trying to get rid of of a key human rights advocate by trumping up charges against him. The least you can do is to demand an independent review of the charges brought against him.

*** UPDATE! *** (posted Jan. 26th at 5:04PM): A source says that charges against López were lowered from attempted murder to harboring and hindering persecution. He was released by the court as the case proceeds through the legal system and put under house arrest. I'll post additional information as it becomes available.


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