Guatemala newspaper elPeriodico shuts amid crackdown

Employees work at the facilities of elPeriodico newspaper, in Guatemala City

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - One of Guatemala's most recognized news outlets and a staunch government critic elPeriodico said on Friday that it will completely shut down operations as of Monday, 10 months after the arrest of its founder and president, Jose Zamora.

Known for its investigative reporting for nearly three decades, elPeriodico laid off 80% of its staff in November and stopped printing, going entirely digital following Zamora's arrest on charges of money laundering and influence peddling.

Zamora's arrest came amid a crackdown on prosecutors, judges, human rights activists, journalists and opposition officials.

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

The outlet was created in 1996 by Zamora and was directed for 17 years by the journalist Juan Luis Font, now in exile.

Zamora, 66, has repeatedly described his arrest as "political persecution" amid the paper's spotlight on alleged cases of corruption by President Alejandro Giammattei's government. The prosecutor's office denies these accusations.

Zamora's trial, which has been condemned by various human rights organizations, could end up being a "breaking point" for press freedom in Guatemala, said Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch.

Zamora's trial, which began this month, has prompted the arrest of four of his defense lawyers. In addition, six journalists and three columnists from elPeriodico are being investigated in a parallel processes.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu, Writing by Isabel Woodford; editing by Diane Craft)