The Washington Post

Guatemalan journalist arrested in growing crackdown on political dissent

- BY RACHEL PANNETT Kevin Sieff contribute­d to this report.

An award-winning journalist in Guatemala 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 at his home in Guatemala City on Friday night as part of an investigat­ion into alleged 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 suspected corruption within the administra­tion of President Alejandro Giammattei, including in the prosecutor’s office.

In a video posted on Twitter on Saturday, Zamora said he would begin a hunger strike protesting his detention. Authoritie­s also raided his newspaper’s headquarte­rs.

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

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 advocating for press freedoms and fighting censorship in Guatemala.

“Guatemalan authoritie­s should immediatel­y release and drop any criminal charges against journalist José Rubén Zamora, president of elperiódic­o,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Gypsy Guillén Kaiser in a statement late Saturday. “Judicial persecutio­n against journalist­s is a mechanism of intimidati­on, and authoritie­s in Guatemala need to put an end to their campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.”

In a video statement, Rafael Curruchich­e, who leads the antiimpuni­ty office in Guatemala, said Zamora’s arrest “has no relation in his capacity as a journalist.” He said that he was being investigat­ed in relation to “a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessma­n.”

Curruchich­e recently was placed on a State Department list of “corrupt and undemocrat­ic actors” from Central America. The U.S. report accuses Curruchich­e of obstructin­g investigat­ions into acts of corruption “by disrupting high-profile corruption cases against government officials.”

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

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

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

Guatemala isn’t the only Central American government cracking down on journalist­s. In Honduras, journalist Sonia Pérez is facing criminal charges over her coverage of police evictions of Indigenous people, according to CPJ. In El Salvador, authoritie­s have effectivel­y criminaliz­ed reporting on gangs, leading to concerns about human rights amid a wave of arrests often made with little evidence.

 ?? Edwin BERCIAN/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? José Rubén Zamora leaves a hearing Saturday in Guatemala City. The journalist, arrested Friday, is now on a hunger strike.
Edwin BERCIAN/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK José Rubén Zamora leaves a hearing Saturday in Guatemala City. The journalist, arrested Friday, is now on a hunger strike.

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