Fri, 27 May 2022

GUATEMALA CITY - A Guatemala judge who last week ordered nine former police and military officers to stand trial for alleged crimes during that country's civil war, said Wednesday that death threats against him had increased since announcing his decision.

"They send me messages, they call me on the phone, there's vehicles following; all of that is happening," Magistrate Miguel Angel Galvez said.

Galvez is no stranger to high-profile cases. He once ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt to be tried. "Before they had threatened me, but now they even come to hearings to photograph me," he said.

Last week's case stemmed from a document from Guatemala's civil war recovered in 1999 known as the "Military Diary." Inside, military officials logged forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and the torture of 183 people.

The men on trial were high-ranking military and police officers arrested last year and implicated in the cases described in the document by nature of the command positions they held when the crimes occurred between 1983 and 1986.

In addition to the nine ex-police and military officers Galvez ordered to stand trial, he called for prosecutors to find Toribio Acevedo Ramirez, a former head of military intelligence. Panamanian authorities arrested Acevedo Ramirez Tuesday in Panama City's airport.

Galvez said that during a hearing he received at least 20 calls from a number in the United States. When he finally answered, a voice on the other end said "if you hang up, you're going to remember me."

Galvez said he suspected the leader of the far-right Foundation Against Terrorism, FCT, Ricardo Rafael Mendez Ruiz, could be behind some of the threats. Mendez Ruiz was sanctioned by the U.S. State Department last year as an undemocratic actor for allegedly obstructing prosecutions against former military officers by harassing and intimidating investigators.

Mendez Ruiz had written on social media that "It is Miguel Angel Galvez's turn, the FCT will take care of it." He said Galvez would pay for serious crimes he committed. "We are going to see him locked up or exiled," he wrote.

On Wednesday, Mendez said he had filed a complaint against the judge.

Galvez said the Supreme Court should investigate the threats, but it had so far not commented.

Meanwhile, Galvez fears the government is trying to build a case against him, as has been the case with other judges and prosecutors who have worked on sensitive corruption cases, which are also sometimes part of his docket.

"They will try to withdraw my immunity as revenge for the decisions," Galvez said.

Juan Pappier, senior investigator for Human Rights Watch's Americas division, said it is on Guatemalan authorities to prevent any attacks on Galvez.

"This case follows a pattern of intimidation against independent judges and prosecutors who investigate and criminally prosecute corruption and human rights crimes in the country," Pappier said. "These attacks have left Guatemalan democracy hanging by a thread."

The Guatemalan Judges for Integrity Association condemned the threats as a "direct attack against judicial independence."

The United States and European governments have expressed concern about the deterioration of Guatemala's justice system. A number of respected judges and prosecutors who worked on corruption cases have fled into exile.

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