Guatemala's top court backs controversial NGO law, overturns past ruling

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's Constitutional Court on Wednesday overturned an earlier ruling that stopped controversial legislation targeting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from becoming law, in a move likely to alarm rights groups and the United States.

Guatemala has been on a collision course with Washington in recent months over the make-up of its highest court, after lawmakers blocked the re-appointment of a key magistrate seen by the United States as being untainted by corruption.

In one of its first major rulings, the court said it had struck down a previous ruling which gave a reprieve to NGOs that had sued against the so-called "NGO law" passed by Congress in February 2020.

The new law will give the government the right to pry into the affairs of and even dissolve non-governmental organizations (NGOs), drawing criticism from Washington for being "onerous".

"In effect this means that the law will enter into force," Roberto Molina Barreto, president of the Court, told Reuters.

Barreto said his court struck down the earlier ruling because it was not the right way to attack a general law.

President Alejandro Giammattei's press secretary, Patricia Letona, said the presidency has not yet been notified and as such it could not comment at the moment.

Guatemala's government last year said it would respect the Constitutional Court's decision to prevent the law from coming into existence.

Congress passed the law on Feb. 12 last year with the support of the ruling party and other conservative lawmakers who argued that foreign-backed NGOs violate national sovereignty.

The law forced NGOs to register, report their donations and allow their accounts to be inspected. Under certain circumstances, it would also allow NGOs to be dissolved, controlled and monitored.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Michael Perry)

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