Police stand guard at Congress in Guatemala City in October 2021. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Guatemalan official files criminal suit against 3 journalists under violence against women law

Guatemala City, May 18, 2022 — Guatemalan authorities should drop all charges against three journalists from the independent newspaper elPeriódico and stop using laws intended to protect women from violence to target and intimidate reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On May 13, Judge Anaelsee Ramírez formally notified elPeriódico publisher José Rubén Zamora, editor Gerson Ortiz, and reporter Cristian Velix of a restraining order in connection with a criminal lawsuit filed by Dina Bosch Ochoa, a Guatemalan official and the daughter of Dina Ochoa, the president of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, according to Guatemalan news website Agencia Ocote.

Zamora told CPJ via phone that Bosch Ochoa accused them of “violence against women in the public sphere” after the outlet reported in April that the Guatemalan Electoral Authority renewed her contract for an unspecified position within the agency and covered her alleged links to a corruption case.

The restraining order bars the journalists from approaching the plaintiff or her family members — including Bosch’s mother, a public official – and reporting on them. If convicted of psychological violence against women under the Law Against Femicide, the journalists face five to eight years in prison.

“Guatemalan authorities should immediately drop the criminal charges against Jose Rubén Zamora, Gerson Ortiz, and Cristian Velix, and they must stop allowing officials and those close to them to use laws intended to protect women to intimidate journalists,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Guatemala’s Law Against Femicide was created to address the country’s high rates of gender-based violence, not to enable powerful individuals to escape criticism or censor the press.”

This is the 17th complaint filed against elPeriódico using the Law Against Femicide, according to a press release on Twitter by elPeriódico. According to the release, Bosch Ochoa initially filed the suit on April 25, but a court specializing in violence against women rejected it and wrote, “there was no personal or working relationship between the complainant and the accused, nor did they work in the same institution.” The Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office then appealed the decision.

CPJ called the Guatemalan judiciary and sent a WhatsApp message to Juan Luis Pantaleón, spokesperson for the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s office, for comment but did not immediately receive a reply. CPJ was unable to identify contact information for Bosch Ochoa or her attorneys.

In July 2018, Sandra Jovel, then Guatemala’s minister of foreign affairs, filed a lawsuit against Zamora for “psychological injury” caused by critical articles in December 2013 under the same law, according to LatAm Journalism Review and as CPJ documented.

In June 2021, two relatives of Miguel Martínez, the former director of the Government Center presidential commission, part of the Guatemalan executive branch, filed a criminal suit against journalists Marvin del Cid and Sonny Figueroa under the same law, CPJ documented at the time.