Guatemalan presidential candidate withdraws request for precautionary measures against editors of elPeriódico

Guatemalan presidential candidate Sandra Torres withdrew a request for precautionary measures against a group of editors of the independent newspaper El Periódico who she sued using the country’s feminicide law. Torres, who made the announcement via Twitter, said that she reaffirms her commitment to press freedom with this decision.

Torres is the third woman to use the country’s feminicide law -- which aims to protect women from physical, psychological and other types of violence -- against someone linked with the newspaper elPeriódico. Other suits targeted the publication’s director, but this was the first against other employees.

"What we have fought is that this law does not concern us, they have used it to scare us," José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, director and founder of elPeriódico, told the Knight Center.

At first, the presidential candidate’s criminal complaint against the editors and the commercial manager of elPeriódico was rejected by the feminicide judge who reviewed the case and who argued that this lawsuit had to do with the Law of Emission of Thought and not with the feminicide law, Ramón Ignacio Zamora, vice president and product manager of elPeriódico, told the Knight Center. However, after Torres appealed, the complaint went to the Second Chamber of the Court of Appeals for Crimes of Feminicide, where it was accepted.

Despite Torres’ statements via Twitter, according to elPeriódico, the restrictive judicial measures against the editors of the national, sports, culture, photography, investigation and design sections and the commercial manager of the newspaper continue because the judge has not yet revoked them. One of the main restrictions prohibits the newspaper from publishing any information about the presidential candidate, according to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

In a video posted on May 11 on YouTube, before withdrawing her petition, Torres said that for many years elPeriódico has maintained a "systematic attack" against her, publishing information that was false and that lacked journalistic rigor. She directly accused the director of that newspaper of damaging her dignity by using degrading nicknames to refer to her. She also asked the newspaper for a channel of dialogue so that it respects her dignity and her right to respond when necessary.

According to Ramón Ignacio Zamora, elPeriódico has always been open to requests for rectification. "She (Sandra Torres) has never asked for a rectification. Moreover, this year during which we are in elections, we invite all candidates for president and vice president to speak in our media outlet, and the UNE (National Unity of Hope, Torres’ party) rejected us," Zamora said.

In addition to being the presidential candidate for the UNE party, Torres was first lady during the government of her then-husband Álvaro Colom (2008-2012).

Zamora Marroquín told the Knight Center that the judicial processes continue for five other lawsuits for feminicide that she filed against him in recent months.

"And Sandra (Torres) has an additional against me, for a crime called 'discrimination,' and I do not even know what it is about, and that's why they called on me today (Tuesday, May 14) in the morning, at 9 a.m., at the public prosecutor, as one accused of a crime. However, I placed a legal recourse and I did not show up," Zamora Marroquín said,

According to the director of elPeriódico, the newspaper's finances are precarious. So far, he said, they have invested nearly US $40,000 dollars in the defense of the cases opened by Torres' demands.

"All of Torres' demands are in different courts and it's basically the same accusation. Some judges have rejected it, they have said that there is no feminicide there, then she has appealed, and on appeal the court case goes up from the court to a Chamber (of the Court of Appeals for Crimes of Feminicide), and the Chamber has supported her," Zamora Marroquín said .

Before the withdrawal of the precautionary measures by Torres, the Association of Journalists of Guatemala categorically rejected her legal actions against elPeriódico.

"Torres' actions not only show her evident hostility towards the critical media and her determination to maliciously use the laws to try to censor the comments against her, but also the ignorance of certain judges before the national and international regulations regarding freedom of expression," the statement said.

Guatemala is a Latin American country that still has high rates of crimes and violence against women, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations (ECLAC).

“What we would like [from the next government and its officials] is that they do not abuse laws that were created to protect the most vulnerable people in the country, to silence the people who speak, the media," Ramón Ignacio Zamora said.

The Law Against Feminicide and other Forms of Violence Against Women is very helpful for women who live in very vulnerable positions, which is why elPériódico does not intend to question the law, he added.

The lawsuits that affect the media and the press for their content are the responsibility of the Court of Honor and the Court of the Press as recently established by the Constitutional Court, elPeriódico published.

The first demand for feminicide that Zamora Marroquín received was in 2014 from the then-Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who is in prison serving a 15-year sentence for acts of corruption, according to Prensa Libre.

The second woman to sue him for the same crime was the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sandra Jovel. For three months, and by court order, Zamora Marroquín was prohibited from approaching the minister's home and work, from publishing any information about her in his paper and from mentioning her, according to La Nación.

The Knight Center tried unsuccessfully to communicate with Sandra Torres and the UNE party about her relationship with the press and journalists and director of elPeriódico.