Guatemalan government targets elPeriódico editor

New York, January 8, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns legal efforts in the past weeks by the president and vice president of Guatemala that are designed to stifle critical reporting by elPeriódico and its editor, José Rubén Zamora Marroquín. Over the course of the past year, the Guatemala City-based daily has published a series of articles, including many opinion columns by Zamora, that have alleged corruption or ties to organized crime within the government.

“It’s outrageous that the two most senior officials in Guatemala have taken to the courts to prevent a journalist from publishing critically about their administration,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas.

Zamora was notified Tuesday that a judge had issued an order barring him from leaving the country in relation to a criminal complaint filed by President Otto Pérez Molina in November that accused the editor of coercion, blackmail, extortion, violating the constitution, and insulting the president, according to the daily. In his complaint, the president said that elPeriódico had damaged his and the country’s reputation and alleged that the daily’s critical reporting of his administration had begun after he denied Zamora’s request for cash in exchange for positive coverage. Zamora has repeatedly denied the accusation.

The complaint asked that the court prohibit Zamora from engaging in any intimidating or threatening actions, “be they verbal or written,” against the “integrity, security and liberty of the victim,” according to a copy of the complaint reviewed by CPJ. It also asked that the court prohibit Zamora from leaving the country and freeze his bank accounts. The judge agreed to bar Zamora from leaving the country and said the remaining requests would be discussed in a hearing set for February 7.

In a separate injunction filed on December 17, a judge who presides over cases of gender violence and crimes against women prohibited Zamora from “disturbing or intimidating” Vice President Roxana Baldetti Elias or any member of her family, and issued a restraining order against Zamora for six months, according to news reports and CPJ’s review of the decision. It was unclear if the order would be interpreted as to prohibit Zamora from writing critically about Baldetti as well, though the editor wrote in a column on December 31 that he could face a fine or jail for contempt of court.

“President Pérez and Vice President Baldetti should withdraw the complaints against Zamora, allow him and his daily to publish freely, and remember that as public officials they are subject to higher levels of public scrutiny,” Lauría said.

ElPeriódico, and Zamora’s columns, in particular, have been unrelenting in their criticism of the president and vice president. In 2013, the daily was repeatedly targeted with threats, intimidation, physical attacks, and cyberattacks, according to CPJ research. The origin of most of the attacks is unknown, but most occurred shortly before or after the outlet had published articles alleging corruption or ties to organized crime within the government. Zamora, a 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, has been the target of violent attacks twice.