Guatemalan Chancellor uses law meant to protect women to get judge to silence criticism from journalist

The Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs used a law that protects women from violence to sue a critical journalist and get a judge to order him to refrain from publishing new articles related to her or even approaching the chancellor.

It was not the first time that this law meant to protect women has been used by a Guatemalan high official to try to silence the same journalist, José Rubén Zamora, founder and director of elPeriódico, known for reporting corruption cases and for his critical articles.

When she was vice president of Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti also used the same law for the protection of women to try to silence criticism and denunciations of corruption published by Zamora. Months later, the vice president was dismissed and arrested for corruption.

Now, a judge banned Zamora from mentioning Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel in his publications for a period of three months.

Jovel denounced Zamora for alleged psychological violence against women and discrimination based on publications from elPeriódico that in her opinion referred to her in an "abusive manner," according to the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala (Cerigua).

In an interview with the Knight Center, Zamora said that he was denounced using the Law against Feminicide and other Forms of Violence against Women, which according to him, his lawyers said cannot override the constitution and therefore the order that the judge of the civil court has issued is illegal.

"I do not have a relationship in which I have power over her, we do not know each other nor have we seen each other. The judge has forbidden me to talk about her or disturb her, intimidate her or frighten her with any publication of mine or any columnist at elPeriódico, because they will consider it like they are talking in my name,” Zamora said.

The journalist explained that if he talks about her again during the period of prohibition, they can accuse him of disobedience and he can go to jail. In that case, Zamora said, he could file a protective action and even bring his request to a Constitutional Court.

Judge Michelle Dardón also ordered protective measures for the minister that prevent Zamora from approaching her home or workplace, the AP reported.

However, Zamora commented that the Constitution defends him because it guarantees the rights to freedom of thought and free expression. "I cannot be subjected to prior censorship," he said.

According to the journalist, this complaint is in retaliation for criticism from his newspaper against the foreign policy of the government that is proving to be "servile to (Donald) Trump." "And they have been so subservient that when (in May) the crisis of the children who have been separated from their family (at the US border with Mexico) broke out, the only statement made by the Guatemalan minister was that she and the President (Jimmy Morales) respected the foreign policy of Trump (current U.S. president)."

Zamora said that other independent newspapers also have criticized the foreign policy of the current Morales government and its minister, but that ElPeriódico is the one that is being tougher.

In a Sunday editorial in elPeriódico, published last June, said: "Sandra Jovel should immediately leave a position that is too large for her. It is not a personal matter, but an objective appraisal of her inbility. Foreign Relations are part of the strategic management of the State."

Also, after the recent court order, elPeriódico reported that there was an attempt of intimidation against its director a few days ago. A man by the name of Helmer Bin Pop who identified himself as an Interior official, and who was driving a car owned by the General Official of Civil Intelligence (Digici), tried to enter the complex "El Carmen," where the journalist lives, the publication said. The subject said he was going to investigate a case of theft inside the complex. The case was false and the man could not enter, according to the story from elPeriódico.

According to Zamora, the first to accuse him of psychological violence using the Law against Feminicide was Roxana Baldetti, in November 2014. Baldetti was vice-president of the government of General Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015). Both await their sentence in prison after being accused of illicit association, illicit enrichment and customs fraud, according to information from El País of Spain.

"Guatemala has historically been a paradise for impunity and corruption," Zamora said. As a result of the journalistic investigations that they have conducted in recent years, the journalist said, he has accumulated to date a total of 198 criminal lawsuits against him, all coming from the Executive Branch, he said.

Zamora Marroquín’s work has been recognized by several important journalistic awards throughout his professional career. In 1994 he was awarded the Maria Moors Cabot Prize by Columbia University. That same year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) gave him the International Press Freedom Award, recognizing his journalistic work in favor of press freedom and the fight against corruption. In 2000 he was considered one of the 50 heroes of press freedom worldwide by the International Press Institute and in 2003 he received the Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).