The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) protests the one-year prison sentence and fine handed down to publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti on 6 August 2009 for alleged copyright infringement. Figueroa is currently under house arrest and there are concerns for his safety. There are significant concerns that the case against Figueroa has been brought in retaliation for his publication of books on human rights abuses in Guatemala. The WiPC is therefore calling for the case against the publisher to be dropped and for him to be allowed to return to the USA, where he is resident.
On 6 August 2009, a court in Guatemala City sentenced the publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti (F&G Editores) to one year in prison and a 50,000 quetzales (approx. US$6,080) fine for allegedly publishing a photograph on a cover of a novel without the permission of the photographer, Mardo Arturo Escobar. Figueroa denies the charges and the prosecution appears groundless given that, since filing the case, Escobar has reportedly twice admitted that he did in fact give permission for the photo in question to be used. The prison sentence is commutable to a daily fine plus litigation costs, but Figueroa is currently under house arrest and unable to return to the USA, where he and his family live.
Established by Figueroa in 2003, F &G Editores is an internationally acclaimed independent publisher based in Guatemala. It publishes fiction, poetry, social science and legal textbooks and is known for its titles on the human rights and socio-political situation in Guatemala, including the final report of the United Nations-backed Guatemalan Truth Commission (Comisión para el Esclarcimiento Histórico, CEH) and publications for the Myrna Mack Foundation.
According to Figueroa, Escobar - who works for a court of law - approached him in 2006 with some of his photographs and asked F&G Editores to publish them. Figueroa explained that he did not publish photos but agreed to use one of Escobar’s images on the front cover of a forthcoming title (Rafael Menjívar Ochoa’s novel Cualquier forma de morir), and in return to provide Escobar with a credit on the back cover and some copies of the book. This arrangement reportedly went ahead as planned.
In August 2007, nine months after the novel was published, Escobar filed a complaint against Figueroa for copyright infringement with the Public Prosecutor’s office, claiming that he had only found out about the use of the photo when he saw the book in a shop window. At an initial hearing in early 2008, Escobar reportedly acknowledged that he had given verbal permission for the photo to be used but as there was no written contract, he was asking for “compensation” of 72,000 quetzales (approx. US$8,752) in lieu of unpaid copyright fees. Despite this, in November 2008 the court ruled that Figueroa could be criminally prosecuted and banned him from leaving the country without the court’s permission. At another hearing in July 2009, Escobar again admitted that he had authorised the use of a photo but said he had not specified which one. The case went ahead regardless.
Figueroa, who is resident in the USA, remains under house arrest in Guatemala City. Under Guatemalan law, he should reportedly be permitted to return to leave the country while awaiting the outcome of his appeal. However, given the nature of the case, there are fears that he may be prevented from returning to the USA and therefore from seeing his family. His wife and four-year-old daughter live in New York and are unable to travel to Guatemala due to threats issued against his wife there in 2007.
Figueroa’s wife, the academic Victoria Sanford, was reportedly subject to threats and surveillance when conducting field research in Guatemala between March and May 2007 which eventually caused her to leave the country for her safety and that of her daughter. Although Sanford at first suspected that the threats stemmed from her research into human rights issues in Guatemala, she now believes them to be related to the court case against her husband. F &G Editores has published two of Sanford’s books: Violencia y Genocidio en Guatemala (Violence and Genocide in Guatemala) in 2003 and Guatemala: del genocidio al femicidio (Guatemala: from genocide to femicide) in 2008.
According to Sanford, Figueroa has been experiencing interference with his phone lines since July 2009 and his work email has reportedly also been tampered with. Given her own experiences in Guatemala, Sanford fears for her husband’s safety.
Sanford says: “This case is not really about F&G Editores any more than it is about Raúl Figueroa-Sarti. This case is about free speech and judicial corruption. It is about silencing the only independent press in Guatemala and the only press willing to use its resources to publish books that speak truth to power. The response of the powerful is to silence those voices in every way possible. […] If this travesty of justice goes unchallenged, it will make writers and publishers all the more apprehensive to write or publish anything that questions injustice.”
Please send appeals:
• Protesting the one-year prison sentence and fine handed down to the publisher Raúl Figueroa-Sarti on 6 August 2009 for alleged copyright infringement;
• Pointing out that since the plaintiff has reportedly admitted that he gave Figueroa verbal permission to publish his photograph, the prosecution is groundless;
• Urging the Guatemalan authorities to drop the case against Figueroa, which appears to be political;
• Expressing concern for Figueroa’s safety and calling for him to be allowed to join his family in the USA, where he is resident.
Attorney General and Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office
Lic. Amílcar Velázquez Zárate
Fiscal General de la República y Jefe del Ministerio Público
15 calle y 15 avenida zona 1
Fax: +502 2411 9100/ 9124/ 9326
Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Estimado Sr. Fiscal General
General Secretary of Attorney General
Lic. Gloria Porras
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
US Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
United Nations Human Rights Council
Fax: +41 22 917 9006