Guatemalan outlet harassed after critical reporting

New York, May 2, 2013–The Guatemalan news outlet elPeriódico has been targeted in a series of cyberattacks as it published stories alleging corruption in President Otto Pérez Molina’s administration. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to investigate immediately and put an end to the harassment.

José Rubén Zamora, publisher of elPeriódico, told CPJ the attacks began as the outlet started publishing a series of critical articles in mid-2012. He said it had intensified after the publication of an article on April 8 called “A Fairy Tale Without a Happy Ending,” which alleged corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of authority by President Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. Both officials have denied the allegations of corruption.

On April 7, elPeriódico‘s website was targeted by a denial-of-service attack, the sixth in as many months, the outlet reported. A denial-of-service attack prevents a website from functioning normally by overloading its host server with external communications requests. ElPeriódico said the website disruptions were brief and that a technical analysis revealed the attacks had originated from computers in Guatemala City.

Zamora said in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that he believed that authorities were behind the attacks. He told the Knight Center that all of the previous cyber-attacks had occurred shortly before or after the outlet had published articles alleging corruption or ties to organized crime within the government. Zamora also said that the outlet had lost advertising as a result of government pressure on private companies.

Secretary of Communications Francisco Cuevas said the administration “categorically denied” the allegations of harassment and accused elPeriódico of waging a “smear campaign against the administration,” according to the Knight Center.

Zamora told CPJ he feared the pressure could escalate and had sent some of his family out of the country for their safety. The prominent investigative journalist, a 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, has been the target of violent attacks twice before.

“There is an unmistakable pattern of cyber-attacks on elPeriódico that are timed to the outlet’s critical coverage of the administration,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on President Pérez Molina’s government to get to the bottom of this malicious activity and put an end to it immediately.”

Journalists in Guatemala have faced danger for coverage of official corruption, domestic security issues, and criminal groups in the past, according to CPJ research.