Little fanfare accompanied the trial court’s release of its 718 page full reasoned judgment on May 17, 2013, one week after the court convicted former de facto head of state Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 80 years in prison. The trial court simply notified the parties to pick up a copy of the sentence at 3pm, when the doors to the courthouse were already closed to the public.
The release of the judgment also starts the 10-day window for the defense counsel to appeal the guilty verdict, which lawyers for Ríos Montt have pledged to do if the Constitutional Court does not overturn the verdict first.
After the guilty verdict was issued Friday, May 10, the Constitutional Court has said that it has been reviewing various pending challenges lodged by the defense counsel. After postponing the release of the decisions twice last week, the Constitutional Court said on Thursday that it intends to issue judgments on Monday after a 10 amextraordinary session, apparently called in light of ongoing divisions within the Court.
The pressures on the Constitutional Court, and in the country, are very high, some of them alarmingly so. Francisco García Gudiel, Rios Montt’s lawyer, expressed his frustration over the Court’s delay in resolving the matter and stated to the press that if the Court rules against his client, there are 45,000 supporters willing and ready to “paralyze” the country. On Thursday, the President of the Bar Association of Guatemala, Luis Reyes, urged the lawyers connected to the trial to refrain from dividing the nation further through their public remarks about the trial.
Meanwhile, the Indigenous Observatory and the Secretary General of the Ixil Community, Miguel Ceto, have accused the powerful business lobby CACIF of funding efforts by former members of civilian patrols (PACs, or private militia groups formed under Ríos Montt) to co-opt people to go to Guatemala City on Monday to lend their support to Rios Montt. The Indigenous Observatory alleged that CACIF secured participation through promises of fertilizer and access to government welfare programs. President Otto Perez Molina affirmed that no government funds could be used to support protests.
Meanwhile, security concerns remain high for both government officials and human rights defenders perceived as supporting the guilty verdict. Government offices, including the Constitutional Court, have received bomb threats. High-profile government officials, and especially Judge Yassmín Barrios, who presided over the trial, have become the targets of highly sophisticated media campaigns to discredit them. They have also been threatened with disciplinary sanction or even civil or criminal charges.
A protest banner hanging from the highway reads: “Fair Trial – No More War” (Juicio Justo – No Mas Guerra). Handwritten underneath is scrawled “To the Constitutional Court.” It is meant to recall the war, and perhaps threaten further instability. And its message is clearly directed at the judges who have promised new judgments on Monday.