Guatemala’s leading investigative daily elPeriódico is facing a new round of pressure for its critical reporting. New legal actions against its founder and director, José Rubén Zamora, and a cyberattack are the latest in a long list of intimidation it has faced since its founding two decades ago, attacks that include a mock execution, kidnapping, assaults, death threats and advertising boycotts.
In July, a Guatemalan judge ordered Mr Zamora to stop publishing articles about Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel. Mr Zamora was also forbidden from approaching her home or workplace for a period of three months. In a bizarre legal action, Ms Jovel sued Mr Zamora for allegedly causing “psychological violence” by publishing articles about her, relying on the Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women – legislation meant to protect women from physical and psychological abuse, not shield them from investigative journalism.
Mr Zamora told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the law meant to curtail gender-based violence was used to silence the outlet’s critical coverage of the Guatemalan government’s activities, including recent reporting on mismanagement within the Foreign Ministry.
One month later, under the same law, another judge made an identical decision in a case brought against Mr Zamora by politician and former first lady Sandra Torres. In addition to the judge’s ruling against its director, in August, elPeriódico suffered its fifteenth cyberattack, which temporally forced the newspaper offline.
“elPeriódico rejects this new wave of intimidation against it and reiterates that the blocking of its site, as well as harassment, threats, discrediting and disinformation campaigns and even jail, will not stop our independent and truthful journalistic practice. We will continue to denounce acts of corruption, nepotism and illicit enrichment that continue to be produced by those who insist on keeping the country in darkness,” Mr Zamora wrote in a news release published on Twitter.
Pressure on elPeriódico further contributes to the climate of uncertainty among independent media in Guatemala. In the World Press Freedom Index, compiled each year by Reporters Without Borders, Guatemala is ranked 116th out of 180 countries. After President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation in a corruption scandal, Jimmy Morales’ election in January 2016 raised hopes in the country. Two years later, the president is accused of nepotism and illegal financing of his presidential campaign and is going to great lengths to prevent investigation, including shutting down an anti-corruption commission backed by the UN. In response, thousands of people have taken to the streets in regular demonstrations calling for an end to corruption – a situation reminiscent of massive protests that forced the previous government of president Otto Pérez Molina to resign amid corruption charges. Then, too, elPeriódico was instrumental and endured a long campaign of state intimidation for its reporting.