Guatemala court allows lawmaker probe in journalist murders
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s Supreme Court lifted the immunity of office Tuesday for a congressman suspected of ordering an attack in which two journalists were killed, clearing the way for a judicial investigation in the case.
Court spokesman Angel Pineda confirmed the ruling and said it was based on evidence presented by an investigative judge. Elected officials in the country generally enjoy protection from criminal prosecution unless it is specifically withdrawn.
Guatemalan prosecutors and a U.N.-sponsored commission investigating corruption in the Central American nation requested the measure in January. They allege Congressman Julio Juarez Ramirez hired hit men to kill Prensa Libre correspondent Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez, whose reporting had hurt Juarez’s plans to run for office.
Zapon was shot to death in March 2015 while walking in a park during daylight just yards (meters) from a police station in the southwestern municipality of Mazatenango.
Fellow journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar of Radio Nuevo Mundo was also killed in the attack and is considered a collateral victim. Another journalist was wounded.
Juarez, a member of the National Convergence Front party that helped President Jimmy Morales win office, has proclaimed his innocence, and Morales has backed him.
On Tuesday, Juarez excused himself from attending a session of Congress, citing health reasons.
The prosecutors’ office announced later that a judge had issued an order barring Juarez from leaving the country.
A court previously sentenced to 30 years in prison a man accused of driving a motorcycle carrying Eduardo Ariel Mazariegos Ramirez, the suspected trigger man in the killings. He remains a fugitive.