The closure of elPeriódico underscores the regional tendency for governments to crack down on independent media, observers say.
One of Guatemala’s oldest and best-known news organizations has said it will close its doors at the end of this month amid what it described as a campaign of government persecution.
ElPeriódico, a 27-year-old investigative news outlet known for reporting on government corruption, said Friday that it would cease operations on May 15.
“It is with deep sadness that we are forced to stop the daily edition of elPeriodico,” the directors said in a statement. “The persecution has intensified, as has the harassment of our advertisers.”
The decision came after Guatemalan authorities arrested the outlet’s award-winning founder, José Rubén Zamora, on money laundering and blackmail charges in July of last year.
The publication accused the government of President Alejandro Giammattei of trying to discredit critical voices through “criminal prosecution and economic pressure.”
🚨🚨 Important notice to our readers, advertisers, society in general and the international community. ⚠️ pic.twitter.com/jt0Z8Y8gMc
— elPeriódico (@el_Periodico) May 12, 2023
The media throughout the Americas region have faced growing difficulties in recent years as governments have tried to stifle independent voices.
Last month, the Salvadoran investigation The news outlet El Faro announced would transfer its administrative and legal operations to Costa Rica, alleging harassment by the government of President Nayib Bukele.
This included infiltrating the phones of El Faro reporters with Pegasus, an Israeli-made spyware that has also been used in Mexico and other countries.
In Guatemala, the Zamora trial could end up being a “breaking point” for press freedom in the country, said Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch.
The trial, which began this month, has led to the arrest of four of Zamora’s defense lawyers. In addition, six journalists and three columnists for elPeriódico are being investigated in parallel proceedings.
In November, elPeriódico cut 80 percent of its staff and ended its print publication, focusing exclusively on digital in a bid to continue its work.
Zamora has repeatedly described his arrest as “political persecution” amid the newspaper’s attention on alleged corruption by the Giammattei government. The prosecution denies these accusations.
“It has been 10 hard months of resistance. We thought we could adapt, transform and survive with an online version”, added Ramón Zamora, son of the founder.
“However, the persecution intensified, as the harassment of our advertisers and maintaining our operations became more and more difficult.”