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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Guatemalan congressman accused of being mastermind of journalist's murder in 2015



A Guatemalan congressman was named by the country’s authorities as the alleged mastermind of the March 10, 2015 murder of journalist Danilo Efraín Zapón López, according to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG for its acronym in Spanish).

The conclusion was made after the completion of the second phase of the investigation into the journalist’s death. During this stage, authorities had access to the telephone of Zapón López whose records showed a dispute between himself and congressman Julio Juárez Ramírez, as told by the Attorney General, CICIG and the National Police at a press conference on Jan. 26. The source of the dispute would have been the refusal of Juárez Ramírez to support the candidacy for congressman of another man to whom the journalist did support, CICIG added.

Presentation by Guatemalan authorities on progress made in the investigation into the murder of journalist Danilo Zapón López in Guatemala. Screenshot.

According to CICIG, the dispute "intensified" between Feb. 27 and March 4. On this last day, Juárez Ramírez communicated for the first time with the negotiators who would be the ones who entered into contact with the intermediaries of the hitmen who committed the crime, according to the official investigation. On March 5, Zapón López contacted a human rights prosecutor who he asked for information about the congressman from the public prosecutor’s databases. According to the authorities, the journalist claimed to be conducting an investigation against Juárez for alleged money laundering.

The following day, Zapón López published a note in the newspaper El Sur about the debts that the congressman had with the country’s Superintendence of Tax Administration (SAT). The note also said that the official had been sued for the crime of "disobedience," CICIG reported. For the authorities, the publication could have been perceived by the official “as a risk for his nomination as a congressman to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala.”

On March 7, the leaders of the hitmen and the intermediaries agreed to pay 25 thousand quetzales (approximately US $3,300) for the murder of Zapón López and agreed on the details of the murder, CICIG added.

The murder of the journalist took place in broad daylight on March 10, 2015 in the central park in the city of Mazatenango, in front of the Government of Suchitepéquez. Two individuals on a motorcycle fatally shot at the reporter. In the conclusions of the investigation, the authorities pointed out that “the certainty of impunity makes the event occur in the central park of the town.

The attack against Zapón López also led to the death of Federico Benjamín Salazar Gerónimo, and the injury of Marvin Túnchez, both of whom were “circumstantial victims,” according to authorities.

On the same day of the crime, the public prosecutor reported on the arrest of Sergio Cardona who was accused of being the driver of the motorcycle.

Others were also captured during the investigation: Jorge Cabrera, alleged coordinator of the murder of the journalist along with Nery López; Artemio de Jesús Ramírez, who allegedly participated in planning the crime; and Germán Almicar Morataya, who allegedly was in charge of giving information to Eduardo Mazariegos, alleged material author of the crime. Mazariegos, however, is on the run, as is Nery López, accused of being the leader of the hitmen.

The latest arrests in the case took place on Jan. 26 with Marco Tulio Cano Reyna and Marco Antonio Paredes Palacios, accused of being the the negotiators, on behalf of the intellectual author, with the leaders of the hitmen.

The murder of the journalists was considered a high-impact crime and so on March 2016, the Attorney General decided to transfer the case to the Special Prosecutor against Impunity in order to help the public prosecutor and CICIG with the investigation.

One of the conclusions of the investigation indicates that the “alleged intellectual author, Juárez Ramírez, saw journalist Zapón López as a threat to the consolidation of his candidacy as a district congressmen and as questioning his power in the area.”

Taking into account that “there are reasonable indications to consider” that the congressman is the alleged intellectual author of the journalist’s murder, the public prosecutor and CICIG requested a preliminary trial for the official. If the preliminary trial is approved by the Supreme Court, the congressman will lose his investiture as a public official and may be tried as a common citizen.

The Association of Journalists of Guatemala (APG for its acronym in Spanish) expressed its satisfaction with the progress made in the investigation and pointed out that these captures show the great penetration of organized crime in the country that makes it a great threat to journalism.

“This entity has warned on numerous occasions that these actors are a real threat for journalism and in many places have implemented censorship and self-censorship, due to the great power they exert,” APG said in a release.

The entity urged the Supreme Court to “immediately proceed with the preliminary trial against the congressman” as a sign of a decision to combat impunity.

The increase in violence against journalists in Guatemala has been a matter of concern for human rights organizations. For the first six months of 2015, for example, 59 attacks against journalists were recorded in the country, as reported at the time by the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala (Cerigua).

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) included Guatemala on its lists of deadliest countries for the press in 2015. Although it did not include it in the list in 2016, it did publish a special story on the country in which it reported the increase in violence against journalists in cases where it was not possible to determine journalistic work as a cause.

This situation has intensified the fight of press organizations for the implementation of a special mechanism for protection of journalists, which they have been asking for, for years.



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