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Guatemala's ElPeriódico Shutters Amid Government Crackdown

FILE - Journalists protest outside the Supreme Court, in Guatemala City, March 4, 2023. The journalists had rejected a judge's order calling for the investigation of nine journalists from the elPeriódico newspaper.

One of Guatemala's oldest news outlets, known for its investigations into government corruption, is ceasing operations Monday amid what it described as a campaign of government persecution.

ElPeriódico announced on Friday that it would cease operations in three days.

"With deep sadness, we are forced to stop the daily edition of elPeriódico," the directors said in a statement. "The persecution has intensified, as has the harassment of our advertisers."

The 27-year-old outlet laid off 80% of its staff and stopped its print edition in November but continued to publish as a digital outlet for the past several months.

The shuttering of elPeriódico is the latest in a sweeping crackdown on journalists, human rights activists, opposition leaders and other critical voices in Guatemala.

ElPeriódico was founded in 1996 by José Rubén Zamora — who is now on trial for money laundering and other charges after he was arrested last July.

"Our team resisted 287 days of persecution, political and economic pressure," elPeriodico said, referencing the time since Zamora was jailed.

Zamora has denied the charges, which he and press freedom experts have said are retaliation for his outlet's critical coverage of the government. The prosecutor's office refutes those accusations.

Zamora’s defense has said he received a $38,000 donation to keep the paper afloat and asked a friend to deposit it because the donor did not want to be identified.

The trial, which began this month, prompted the arrest of four of Zamora's defense lawyers.

Nine other journalists and columnists from elPeriódico are also under investigation for alleged obstruction of justice.

Out of 180 countries, Guatemala ranks 127 in the world in terms of press freedom, with 1 indicating the best media environment, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

In a tweet posted Monday morning, elPeriódico said, "Telling the truth and rigorously publishing the facts is not easy. In Guatemala it is something that requires courage. Goodbye!"

Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.