Judge orders investigation of Guatemalan journalists

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A Guatemalan judge ordered the investigation Tuesday of nine journalists from a newspaper whose president, a prominent government critic, has already been jailed on various charges since last year.

Judge Jimi Bremer said that to find out whether the journalists from El Periodico newspaper were maliciously pursuing prosecutors, judges and other members of Guatemala’s justice system, thereby opening themselves up to criminal charges, they should be investigated.

Top prosecutor Cinthia Monterroso had argued that El Periodico published stories about complaints, disciplinary processes and questioned decisions by justice officials, including herself. She said who ordered such stories and the sources of their financing must be investigated.

It was the government’s latest move against the newspaper known for hard-hitting investigations of public officials and government wrongdoing led by José Rubén Zamora.

In December, a judge ordered that Zamora stand trial on charges of money laundering, influence peddling and blackmail. In Tuesday’s hearing, Bremer also added a new case of alleged obstruction of justice.

Mario Recinos, president of the Guatemalan Association of Journalists, said “we’re seeing a deterioration in rights.”

“The Constitution establishes that criticism of officials is not a crime,” he said. “It also protects freedom of the press and opinion.” He said his organization was on alert because “this is a reflection of what happens in countries like Nicaragua.”

Nicaragua’s authoritarian government has shuttered independent press outlets and driven journalists into exile.

The U.S. government has sharply criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala under President Alejandro Giammattei and last year cancelled the U.S. visa of Monterroso’s predecessor Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras.

Press freedom groups have said the prosecution of Zamora is politically motivated. His defense has maintained he received a $38,000 donation to keep the paper afloat and asked a friend to deposit it in a bank because the donor did not want to be identified.

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