The IAPA Signs Legal Document in Support of Guatemalan Journalists Accused of Obstruction of Justice


Miami (February 5, 2024) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) filed an amicus curiae legal brief this week before a Guatemalan court in defense of eight Guatemalan journalists who were prosecuted and accused of obstruction of justice. The case is currently under appeal and will be heard in the coming days.

In March 2023, the Guatemalan judiciary prosecuted a group of journalists for a series of articles published about the trial against the founder and president of elPeriódico, Jose Rubén Zamora Marroquín. He has been in prison since July 2022 for his investigative work on corruption, following a process filled with flaws and irregularities, in clear retaliation for his critical work.

The journalists and columnists accused are Denis Obdulio Aguilar González, Julia Catalina Corado Flores, Gerson Allende Ortiz, Edgar Armando Gutiérrez Girón, Gerli Alexander Valdez, Ronnie Alexander Ríos García, and Gonzalo Marroquín Godoy, former president of the IAPA.

The journalists accused in this case, brought by prosecutors sanctioned by the United States, had to leave the country, and could not continue their work during the months the case against them was active. Between 2019 and 2023, at least 50 individuals, including journalists, judges, prosecutors, and activists, had to leave Guatemala, citing political persecution against them, according to press reports.

The legal document argues that, according to the Public Ministry, "the journalists, through their publications, may have attempted to threaten or coerce members of the Judicial Branch, Public Ministry, and Auxiliary Justice Administration, affecting their physical integrity and honor, with the aim of influencing their behavior." It states that this was done "violating the constitutional precepts that guarantee freedom of thought."

The amicus curiae highlights that "the prosecutor, arbitrarily and illegally, also requested an investigation into the sources of funding because, according to her, the journalists' publications are orchestrated by more people, also requesting an investigation into organizations that fund them." The legal document, signed by the IAPA, states that these maneuvers are "violating what is regulated in Article 35 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, which also establishes that the media's role is of public interest, and these cannot be expropriated under any circumstances."

The analysis by the lawyers underscores that "the publications for which the Public Ministry intends to conduct a criminal investigation, for the crime of obstruction of justice, refer to actions carried out by public officials in the exercise of their office." It adds that "these publications, criticisms, or complaints were made by Guatemalan journalists from elPeriódico and constitute a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, recognized and guaranteed by the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala. In that sense, it is not legally viable to criminally investigate publications made by journalists since the legally established procedure is for it to be addressed by an Honor Tribunal, as regulated by the Emission of Thought Emission Law."

The prosecution of journalists on charges of obstruction of justice contradicts international standards on freedom of expression and the Guatemalan constitution, including Articles 1, 2, 13, 14, and 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights, 1 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 19(2), 3, and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1, 2, 35, 44, 46, 149, and 150 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, and 1, 5, 27, 35, and 71 of the Emission of Thought Law, according to the brief.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.