GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge who last week ordered nine former police and military officers to face trial for alleged crimes during the country’s civil war said on Wednesday that death threats against him had increased since his verdict was announced.
Galvez is no stranger to high-profile cases. He once ordered the trial of former dictator Efren Rios Montt. “Earlier they threatened me, but now they come to the hearing to take pictures of me,” he said.
Last week’s incident stemmed from a 1999 Guatemalan civil war document known as the “Military Diary”. Inside, military officials say there have been reports of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and the torture of 183 people.
The detainees were high-ranking military and police officers arrested last year and involved in a case described in the document, according to the nature of the command position they held at the time of the crime between 1983 and 1986.
In addition to the nine former police and military officers ordered by Galvez to face trial, he has called on prosecutors to find Toribio Acevedo Ramirez, the former head of the military intelligence department. Panamanian authorities arrested Acevedo Ramirez from the Panama City airport on Tuesday.
Galvez said he received at least 20 calls from a number in the United States during the hearing. When he finally answered, a voice on the other end said, “If you hang up, you’ll remember me.”
Galvez said he suspected that the leader of the right-wing foundation Against Terrorism, the FCT, Ricardo Rafael Mendez Ruiz, could be behind some of the threats. Mendez Ruiz was approved by the US State Department last year as an undemocratic actor for allegedly obstructing trials against former military officers by harassing and intimidating investigators.
“It’s Miguel Angel Galvez’s turn, the FCT will take care of it,” Mendez Ruiz wrote on social media. He said Galvez would pay for the serious crime he committed. “We’re going to see him locked up or exiled,” he wrote.
On Wednesday, Mendez said he had filed a lawsuit against the judge.
Galvez said the Supreme Court should investigate the threat, but has not yet commented.
Galvez, meanwhile, fears the government is trying to make a case against him, as has been the case with other judges and prosecutors who have worked in sensitive corruption cases, which are sometimes part of his docket.
“They will try to revoke my immunity in retaliation for the decision,” Galvez said.
Juan Pappier, a senior investigator at the US division of Human Rights Watch, said it was up to Guatemalan authorities to prevent any attack on Galvez.
“The case follows a pattern of intimidation against independent judges and prosecutors who investigate and prosecute corruption and human rights abuses in the country,” Papier said. “This attack has left Guatemala’s democracy in a state of disarray.”
The Guatemalan Jazz for Integrity Association has condemned the threat as a “direct attack on the independence of the judiciary.”
The United States and European governments have expressed concern about the deteriorating state of Guatemala’s judiciary. Many respected judges and prosecutors working in corruption cases have fled into exile.