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Guatemalan government suspected of censoring Transparency International Chair

Access to newspaper interview blocked amid unravelling government corruption scandal

Transparency International today demanded the Guatemalan government investigate why and who blocked internet access to a newspaper interview with Transparency International Chair José Ugaz.

The Director of El Periódico, José Rubén Zamora, said yesterday “Access to this article was blocked for several hours on our website today. We suspect the government was responsible for this because they have a history of blocking access to our website.” The interview was about a growing government corruption scandal in Guatemala and raised concerns about the apparent deep involvement of Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

“Anti-corruption activists must have the freedom to speak truth to power and be able to hold public officials to account for their actions,” Ugaz said. “I request investigation into this case. Blocking the public’s access to information critical of the government during a burgeoning public sector corruption scandal begs the question: What else is being hidden from the public?”

In the interview Ugaz said the Vice President should waive her immunity and that a thorough investigation of her role in the growing customs fraud scandal be initiated.

Last week two senior current and former government officials and 18 others were arrested for customs fraud in a scheme allegedly orchestrated by the Vice President’s private secretary. The private secretary has since fled the country.

The fraud was uncovered by the United Nation’s International Commission against Impunity after a 10-month investigation.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has said he does not want the commission’s mandate renewed when it ends in September 2015. This would end independent investigation of corruption and other crimes in the country.

“Recent events point to a severe crisis of governance in Guatemala. Several important pillars for the rule of law, including the judiciary and security agencies, have a history of corruption and of being co-opted by special interests,” Ugaz said. “It appears Guatemala is being held ransom by a network of corrupt individuals. Restoring access to information and free speech are just the first stepping stones to reversing this situation.”

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