Guatemalan court for crimes against women orders journalist not to "disturb" vice president

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  • January 6, 2014

By Alejandro Martínez

The director of Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico, José Rubén Zamora, wrote in a recent opinion article that he will not pay a fine of 500 quetzales (about $63) – under the penalty of going to prison for disobedience – after defying a recent judicial order that bars him from "disturbing or intimidating" the country's vice president, Ingrid Roxanna Baldetti.

The Dec. 17 order from judge Karen Jeanette Chinchilla Menéndez, with a court for crimes against women, also bars Zamora from approaching Baldetti's home address and her place of work for a period of six months.

In his Dec. 31 opinion article "Prisoner of conscience before tolerating the prostitution of the law," Zamora said Chinchilla Menéndez discarded all of the legal arguments against categorizing his criticisms of Baldetti under Guatemala's Feminicides Law. Since he has already written about Baldetti after the issuance of the order, Zamora said he could receive a citation at any moment or be taken before the authorities for disobedience and receive a fine.

"I'd rather go to jail before paying this fine of 500 quetzales, which has its origin in a stupid aberration of the law. To pay would be like supporting a flagrantly capricious, illegal and unfair judicial decision, dictated by judge Chinchilla only with the intention of making a good impression with the almighty vice president," Zamora wrote.

Zamora condemned the use of Guatemala's crimes-against-women laws to limit freedom of expression with political goals and, on another article published in elPeriódico, he wrote that, as a public official and independently from her gender, Baldetti “was susceptible to criticisms, inquiries and rigorous scrutiny and comments from mass media outlets."

"This time, in another attempt to nullify freedom of the press, the vice president has used her power and influence to produce a legal order (...) as if, because of her being a woman, and not a public official, she has been pointed at and criticized by elPeriódico and I, for her extended acts of voracious corruption, her demonstrated ineptitude to govern, her reiterated acts of abuse of authority, the serious indications of her association with organized crime, her prominent participation in clandestine networks that have infiltrated the state, and her obvious and evident illegal gain (unexplainable through decent and legal means)," he wrote.

Guatemalan attorneys and international organizations criticized the order as well.

“What most calls the attention to this incredible court order is that it is a new way of shielding an official from criticism,” declared Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

Zamora has regularly investigated and criticized Baldetti. In April last year, after the publication of an article that underscored the cases of corruption that have surrounded people close to the vice president and questioned Baldetti's luxurious life in the last decade, elPeriódico was the target of its sixth cyberattack, which, just like the prior ones, Zamora blamed on the government.

Zamora is the founder of newspaper Siglo Veintiuno (which helped prevent the self-coup d'état of then-President Jorge Elias Serrano), winner of the Committee to Protect Journalists' 1995 International Press Freedom Award, and one of Central Americas' most recognized journalists. Because of his reporting, he has been the target of kidnappings, death threats and attacks.

In 2003, military counterintelligence agents simulated his execution three times and kidnapped him, along with his wife and three children, with guns aimed at their heads. Since 1994, he has been shot, his vehicle destroyed with a grenade, and has been the target of financial persecution and lawsuits by military courts.

Discussing the possibility of going to prison during a brief email exchange with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Zamora said that "I prefer to go to jail if it's necessary, even though I'd have to see there the counter-intelligence military officers who broke into my house in 2003 and the three material authors of the attempt on my life that I suffered in 2008."

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.