1683936752 Press persecution Guatemalas elPeriodico announces its closure due to government

Press persecution: Guatemala’s elPeriódico announces its closure due to government harassment

Journalist José Rubén Zamora, founder of Journalist José Rubén Zamora, founder of “ElPeriódico” in Guatemala, in court. Esteban Biba (EFE)

The Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico published a statement this Friday that is also its epitaph: 287 days after the arrest of its director and founder José Rubén Zamora and after having endured “persecution, political and economic pressure” during this time, the newspaper decided to close down. Next Monday, May 15th, the latest edition of this publication, which has been dealing with the corruption that has prevailed in this Central American country for years, will be published.

The government of Alejandro Giammattei, through prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, launched an attack against the newspaper on July 29, 2022, when security forces arrested José Rubén Zamora and raided elPeriódico’s newsroom. Launched in 1996, this publication has exposed and denounced numerous cases of state corruption over its nearly 30-year existence, including the scandals that led to the fall of Otto Pérez Molina’s government in 2015.

“elPeriódico received a heavy blow. “After ten months of denouncing that the current regime was fabricating charges against him, José Rubén Zamora was arrested on an articulated case in less than 72 hours,” the statement said. “From that moment the resistance struggle began and the forecasts were not hopeful. According to the calculations of the finance department and given the circumstances, the medium had two months to live. But it was not like that. Thanks to the solidarity of our loyal readers, our advertisers and the support of international organizations that believe in independent journalism and democracy, our team has withstood 287 days of persecution, political and economic pressures.”

At the same time, the founder of elPeriódico is facing a trial that his relatives and journalists describe as “political”. José Rubén Zamora is accused by the public prosecutor of money laundering and extortion. The allegations are in retaliation for his journalistic publications. On May 3, as the trial began, criticized for multiple “irregularities,” the defendant himself announced that he would be “convicted.” “I’m a political prisoner and I was treated as one,” Zamora explained.

In his statement, ElPeriódico emphasizes “that the attacks have not stopped”. “So far four lawyers have been arrested, two are still in custody, six journalists and three columnists are being investigated by the FECI [la Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad] by Rafael Curruchiche and José Rubén Zamora has accumulated four criminal cases against him.”

José Zamora, son of the accused journalist, told EL PAÍS that “it is impossible to separate what happened with elPeriódico from his father’s case”. “Ever since the state kidnapped him nearly ten months ago, it has become increasingly difficult to get the financial support to keep the store running. Advertisers are very concerned when they see that the government’s persecution not only continues, but gets even worse. So they preferred not to place their ads in the newspaper or make donations because the state is also prosecuting them.”

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José Zamora explains that elPeriódico’s staff consisted of 30 people, but the Guatemalan judiciary opened cases against nine of them. “This financial lockdown made it increasingly impossible to pay the payroll, i.e. And the most responsible measure to protect the team and also from a financial point of view was to stop publication,” complains the accused’s son, who is also a journalist.

“It’s terrible for democracy”

The closure of elPeriódico is a major blow to freedom of the press in Guatemala, but also to an authoritarian Central America that has declared war on journalism and reporters. “All this is terrible for the country, for all Guatemalans. It’s terrible for democracy because it reinforces these repressive and authoritarian characters. It is one more step towards establishing a totally corrupt system. “It’s another step to turn Guatemala into Nicaragua, Venezuela or Cuba,” says José Zamora.

The judiciary, controlled by the Giammattei government, has also launched a prosecution against at least 35 critical judges and prosecutors who, along with more than 20 journalists, have gone into exile. In addition, with a view to the 2023 general elections, the Supreme Electoral Court has disqualified the candidatures of formulas that attack the “corrupt system”, as in the case of Thelma Cabrera, leader of the indigenous people, and Jordán Rodas, former human rights lawyer.

José Luis Font, a journalist in exile, told EL PAÍS that the closure of elPeriódico had “always been the goal” of the Giammattei administration. “Also by the funders of the Counter-Terrorism Foundation and the State Department, which have served as instruments of a government that co-opts the courts,” he says. “A governing coalition that has taken control of virtually all of the republic’s institutions, and has no counterbalances in that power, can accomplish something as negative as shutting down the only newspaper that has consistently and reliably dedicated itself to investigating corruption for years.” an effective way in Guatemala”.

Font, who worked at elPeriódico, adds that many of the corruption cases uncovered under the leadership of José Rubén Zamora were successfully prosecuted by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was disbanded in 2018 by former President Jimmy Morales were brought to court.

“The reasons why elPeriódico has always faced economic difficulties and hostility in different governments are obvious: it documented corruption over a long period of time. It is a setback for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the freedom of the people to access information in Guatemala. But that’s not the end of the story,” affirms Font.

Meanwhile, in the communiqué that looks more like the epitaph of this letter, the journalists of this newspaper in Guatemala say that “it has been ten arduous months of resistance and struggle”. “In November 2022 we discontinued the print edition and focused on our digital edition. We thought we could adapt, transform and survive. On the contrary, the persecution intensified, as did the harassment of our advertisers and it became increasingly difficult to keep our operations going,” they explain.

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