Guatemala: Amnesty International demands immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience Virginia Laparra

Former prosecutor Virginia Laparra, who was head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango, is a prisoner of conscience who has been unjustly imprisoned for more than nine months because of her work investigating corruption cases in Guatemala, said Amnesty International today.

The trial of former prosecutor Laparra is due to begin today, 28 November, before the Eighth Criminal, Drug and Environmental Court in Guatemala City. She is charged with ongoing abuse of authority, a crime for which she could face up to nine years in prison.

“Following a thorough review of the criminal case, we have found serious shortcomings as regards the charges against former prosecutor Virginia Laparra, as well as multiple irregularities in the handling of the case. Not only is there no solid evidence that she has committed any crime, but it is clear that the reasons given by the court for rejecting her requests to be released while proceedings continue are arbitrary,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

As part of FECI, former prosecutor Laparra led large-scale investigations into corruption and crime. The criminal proceedings against her began in 2018, after she reported a judge to the Disciplinary Board of the Judiciary for possible inappropriate behaviour as a sitting judge, namely leaking confidential information about a case he was dealing with. In retaliation, this same judge filed two criminal complaints against her on the same grounds: the first in July 2018 in Quetzaltenango and the second in August 2019 in Guatemala City.

Virginia Laparra was arrested on 23 February 2022 as she left work in Quezaltenango and she has been unjustly held in pre-trial detention ever since.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned about shortcomings and irregularities in the proceedings against Virginia Laparra, which include the lack of substantiation of the alleged offence, the pursuit of criminal prosecutions against the former prosecutor on the same grounds before two different judges and the instrumentalization of the criminal process to deprive her of her liberty without grounds, among others. The organization concludes that the rights of former prosecutor Laparra to due process and a fair trial have been violated, which also constitutes arbitrary detention for her work investigating corruption cases. These factors, together with the virulent smear campaigns on social media, are characteristic of patterns of criminalization in the country that Amnesty International has documented for years.

“Virginia Laparra is being persecuted solely for independently exercising her function as a prosecutor and therefore, Amnesty International considers her to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for her immediate and unconditional release. It is inexcusable that the highest Guatemalan authorities have allowed this case to be instrumentalized by those opposed to the fight against impunity and corruption. The baseless criminal prosecution of those responsible for the administration of justice who have played a prominent role in this struggle must end immediately,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International will be following the trial of former prosecutor Virginia Laparra in the coming days. The organization calls on the Public Prosecutor’s Office to drop the charges against her and to request her immediate and unconditional release.