José Rubén Zamora Marroquín by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

José Rubén Zamora Marroquín


José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, a renowned Guatemalan journalist, founder and director of elPeriódico and one of the most outspoken critics of the Guatemalan government, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

On 29 July 2022, Zamora, sixty-six, was arrested at his home by the National Civil Police and had his bank accounts frozen. The next day, the headquarters of elPeriódico were occupied by officers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police, who prevented the newspaper’s employees from leaving the building. His arrest came five days after a Sunday edition of elPeriódico published accusations of corruption by past and present government officials. Together with his colleagues at elPeriódico, Zamora has regularly written about corruption in the government and the private sector under various presidents.

In September 2021, María Consuelo Porras, the attorney general, was sanctioned by the United States on charges of obstruction of justice in Guatemala. The following month, Zamora accused Porras and President Alejandro Giammattei of seeking to fabricate charges against him in order to silence him. Since 2003, Zamora has been the beneficiary of precautionary measures put in place by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in recognition of the risks he faces in relation to his work as a journalist.

Zamora was put on trial on 2 May 2023 on charges of extortion and money laundering. Shortly afterwards, a new complaint of ‘influence peddling’ was filed against him. He has been prevented from providing evidence in his defence and has had to change lawyers eight times due to allegations made against his legal representatives. On 30 May, the prosecutor, Cinthia Monterroso, requested the maximum sentence provided by law, with the aggravating circumstance of ‘contempt for authority’, for each of the charges: twenty years in prison for money laundering, twelve years for influence peddling and eight years for extortion.

PEN and other lobby groups consider Zamora to have been subjected to trumped-up charges as a result of his investigative journalism and the reports published in elPeriódico of corruption by Giammattei, Porras and the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, Rafael Curruchiche. PEN has condemned the relentless harassment of Zamora and believes that the trial is part of a campaign of persecution, criminalisation and censorship targeting critical journalists, devised with the aim of eroding press freedom in Guatemala. Karla Olascoaga, president of PEN Guatemala, has suggested that the government’s actions are a throwback to the years of terror that caused the death of significant numbers of journalists in Guatemala.

On 14 June, Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering and fined 300,000 quetzal (more than $38,000). The court in Guatemala City ruled that he had ‘harmed the Guatemalan economy’. He was acquitted of the charges of extortion and influence peddling. Zamora proclaimed his innocence, protesting that his rights had been violated during the court proceedings. ‘They treated us like criminals,’ he said, and they ‘destroyed evidence’. He is currently facing two other criminal cases, one pertaining to signatures on customs documents that did not match. This case was filed just days ahead of the sentencing.

In February 2023, a judge authorised the investigation of nine journalists from elPeríodico on charges of ‘conspiracy to obstruct justice’ following a request from the lead prosecutor in Zamora’s case. The charges stem from the publication of stories critical of the legal proceedings against Zamora. On 15 May, the newspaper was forced to close because of the financial pressures caused by Zamora’s imprisonment.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Giammattei administration regularly subjects independent journalists and media outlets to verbal attacks, restrictions and abuse of process in criminal proceedings. The procedure for appointing the attorney general and the human rights ombudsperson have been deemed neither fair nor transparent. In May 2022, Giammattei reappointed Porras, who continues to block investigations into corruption and use trumped-up charges to bring proceedings against independent journalists, prosecutors and judges.

Readers might like to send appeals urging the Guatemalan authorities to immediately and unconditionally release renowned Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, to end the judicial harassment of critical voices in Guatemala, in violation of their right to peaceful free expression, and to allow journalists to work without fear of violence or intimidation.

Appeals to be addressed to:

Dr Alejandro Giammattei
President of Guatemala
Twitter: @DrGiammattei

Dr María Consuelo Porras Argueta
Attorney General of Guatemala & Head of the Public Ministry
Twitter: @MPguatemala

His Excellency Acisclo Valladares Molina
Embassy of Guatemala
105a Westbourne Grove
London W2 4UW
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7221 1525
Twitter: @GuatemalaUk

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