NewsLatin AmericaBehind bars recognized journalist who investigates corruption in Guatemala

    Behind bars recognized journalist who investigates corruption in Guatemala

    Guatemalan authorities detained a well-known opposition journalist this weekend, sparking outrage from human rights defenders. His entourage tells France 24 why they consider his arrest to be part of a repression of prosecutors, journalists and anti-corruption activists.

    As a sign that, despite the attacks, he will not abandon his profession, the journalist appeared with a printed copy of ‘elPeriódico’ in his handcuffed hands.

    Journalist José Rubén Zamora was transferred to the Mariscal Zavala prison in the Guatemala City military reserve, where he is being held in provisional custody until his first statement hearing. © Luis Echeverria / Reuters

    José Rubén Zamora, the well-known Guatemalan journalist and founder of the newspaper ‘elPeriódico’, will continue to be imprisoned, after the suspension this Monday, August 1, of his first statement hearing.

    In an interview with France 24, the director of the outlet, Julia Corado, said that the Public Ministry’s “excuse” for canceling the hearing was that “the patrol van in which Zamora was supposed to arrive at the court broke down.”

    For its part, the humanitarian organization Truth and Justice assured through its social networks that the postponement of hearings “has been a malicious litigation strategy” to keep the journalist in jail.

    The son of the journalist and also an employee of ‘elPeriódico’ Ramón Zamora confided his concern to France 24 for not having been able to communicate with his father for more than 10 minutes after his arrest. He also reaffirmed his father’s “total innocence” in that “political case.”

    Zamora’s latest fight with Guatemalan justice began on Friday afternoon, when he was surprised to see heavily armed agents inside his residence. Before the eyes of his grandchildren, who were visiting the house, the security forces proceeded to inspect his home to, after seven hours, confirm that he had an arrest warrant and arrest him. “The people who carried out the raid did not ring the bell, but entered through the roof,” Zamora explained to ‘elPeriódico’.

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    Zamora’s defense is still unaware of the accusation charges

    While this was happening in the journalist’s house, the morning paper’s offices were also raided for 16 hours. The agents confiscated the information from the computers and eight administrative workers were held without access to a cell phone or food, according to the investigative medium ‘No-Ficción’.

    And until the publication of that article, the official motives for these raids are not known in detail. Indeed, this Monday, -four days after Zamora’s arrest-, his lawyer Mario Castañeda indicated that he had not had access to the file of the accusation against the journalist, denouncing that “it is impossible to exercise a defense.”

    Prosecutor’s Office: “He is captured as a businessman, not as a journalist”

    The prosecutor in charge of the case in the Public Ministry, Rafael Curruchiche, indicated on Friday, through official channels, that Zamora was arrested for the alleged crimes of blackmail, influence peddling and money laundering. “He is captured as a businessman, not as a journalist,” he assured, before assuring that the case is “under reserve”, so no further information can be disclosed.

    However, ‘elPeriódico’ announced this Monday that, at the request of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, the accounts of the media outlet were seized. Ramón Zamora told us that the measure sought to put an end to the medium financially.

    In the same way, the press union considers that the operation is due to retaliation for publications on the alleged corruption of the president of the Central American nation, Alejandro Giammattei, and the current attorney general, Consuelo Porras.

    ‘elPeriódico’ emerged in 1996, under the leadership of Zamora, and since then it has distinguished itself by a trajectory marked by making the successive governments of Guatemala uncomfortable. In the last decade, it published great revelations of cases of government corruption, links of deputies and political parties with drug trafficking, as well as the presence of organized crime actors at the highest level of the State. And several of these investigations were signed by the currently imprisoned journalist.

    The story that would have triggered the case

    But what would have most recently “infuriated” the government, in the words of Julia Corado, would be the publication of a fable. Five days before Zamora’s arrest, in a section of ‘elPeriódico’ called “elPeladero”, “The Fable of the Ogre and the Little Blue Prince who wanted everything” was published. With abundant metaphors and in the tone of a story, alleged corrupt activities of President Alejandro Giammattei are described.

    Winner in 2021 of one of the King of Spain International Journalism Awards, Zamora has been one of the main critics of the Government chaired by Alejandro Giammattei. In the past, pressure and threats drove him into exile with his family.

    In a video recorded from a cell, the journalist described the new attack as “political persecution.” He added that he was starting a hunger strike, which his environment convinced him to suspend: “We need him strong for what’s coming,” said director Julia Corado.

    A “witch hunt” against anti-corruption actors

    A deputy prosecutor from the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, Samari Carolina Gómez Díaz, was also arrested for her possible participation in the crime of disclosing confidential information related to Zamora. “All this has become a witch hunt. I have the solvency that my work in 12 years in the Public Ministry was without fault or administrative sanction,” she said at the time of her arrest, the assistant prosecutor.

    Gómez joins no less than six anti-corruption prosecutors and assistants who have been criminally criminalized during the administration of Guatemala’s Attorney General, Consuelo Porras.

    This was included in the ‘Engel List’ of the United States since September 2021, under accusations of “obstructing Justice” in Guatemala. Despite appearing on that list of “corrupt and undemocratic” actors, President Alejandro Giammattei renewed it for another five-year term in May 2022.

    The one who also appears on that ‘Lista Engel’ is the prosecutor in charge of the case against Zamora, Rafael Curruchiche. Appointed a year ago by Porras herself, he was included this month for “persecuting former anti-corruption prosecutors, against FECI prosecutors, private attorneys, and former prosecutors of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) with apparently false investigations.”

    More than a dozen former Feci prosecutors, judges, and human rights activists have fled Guatemala because of the complaints and arrest warrants issued against them. Also, at least five Guatemalan journalists are currently in exile.

    Therefore, the ombudsman Jordán Rodas warned that Zamora’s arrest occurs in a context similar to Nicaragua, where journalists critical of President Daniel Ortega were prosecuted and sentenced.

    For his part, Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, recalled that Zamora has had precautionary measures from the IACHR since 2003.

    The Committee for the Protection of Journalists finally ruled that “the judicial persecution against journalists is a mechanism of intimidation, and the Guatemalan authorities must put an end to their campaign of intimidation and threats against the press.”

    The government of President Alejandro Giammattei has not commented on the case.

    With AFP, Reuters, EFE and local media

    Source: France 24

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