Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora arrested in political crackdown

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An award-winning Guatemalan journalist has gone on a hunger strike to protest his arrest by authorities amid growing signs of a crackdown on political dissent in the country.

José Rubén Zamora was arrested Friday night at his home in Guatemala City as part of an investigation into allegations of money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling, according to prosecutors. Zamora denounced the charges against him as a conspiracy, describing his arrest as “political persecution”.

Zamora is president and founder of the newspaper elPeriódico, which has reported on suspicions of corruption within President Alejandro Giammattei’s administration, including within the prosecutor’s office.

In a video posted on Twitter On Saturday, Zamora announced he would go on a hunger strike to protest his detention. The authorities also raided the headquarters of his newspaper.

In a separate article, elPeriódico said he would not be silenced despite what he said were “constant” attacks, persecutions and threats against the newspaper and its president. “We have always believed in freedom of expression and worked to control power through journalism, against all odds,” the newspaper writes. wrote.

Zamora’s arrest was condemned by human rights groups and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which gave Zamora its International Press Freedom Award in 1995 for his work defending press freedom and fighting censorship in Guatemala.

“Guatemalan authorities should immediately release and drop all criminal charges against journalist José Rubén Zamora, president of elPeriódico,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Gypsy Guillén Kaiser. in a report late Saturday. “Judicial persecution against journalists is an intimidation mechanism, and the Guatemalan authorities must put an end to their campaign of intimidation and threats against the press.

In a video statementRafael Curruchiche, who heads the anti-impunity office in Guatemala, said Zamora’s arrest has no connection as a journalist. He said he was being investigated for “a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessman”.

Curruchiche was placed on a State Department list of “corrupt and undemocratic actors” in Central America earlier this month. United States report accuses Curruchiche of obstructing corruption investigations “by disrupting high-profile corruption cases against government officials.”

Anti-corruption judge flees Guatemala despite US efforts to protect her

Several other senior Guatemalan officials, including Attorney General María Consuelo Porras, were listed last year. In May, the The State Department announced additional sanctions against her for allegations of “involvement in significant corruption”.

In March, one of Guatemala’s most senior judges and a key US ally in the fight against corruption resigned and fled the country, a worrying sign of the deterioration of its judicial system.

The Biden administration has said strengthening anti-corruption programs and improving governance in Central America are key to deterring illegal migration, and has accused senior officials and politicians of corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and in Honduras.

Guatemala is not the only Central American government to crack down on journalists. In Honduras, journalist Sonia Pérez faces criminal charges for her coverage of police evictions of Indigenous peoples, according to CPJ. In El Salvador, authorities have effectively criminalized gang reporting, raising human rights concerns amid a wave of arrests often made with very little evidence.

Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.

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