The Washington Post

Guatemala’s campaign against journalist­s continues

- BY JOSÉ CARLOS ZAMORA José Carlos Zamora is a journalist and longtime media executive in the united states. he serves as chief communicat­ions officer at exile Content.

Today is as good a day as any for Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to let my father come home. José Rubén Zamora has been in prison in Guatemala for 228 days. He has been charged with money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling and is awaiting trial. His real crime, however, has been investigat­ing and publicizin­g 144 cases of corruption during the first 144 weeks of Giammattei’s term.

But the persecutio­n of my father was not merely the result of some vendetta by the well-connected. It is part of a coordinate­d campaign to crush journalism in the country.

Ever since Guatemala emerged from military dictatorsh­ip and adopted a democratic constituti­on in 1985, each administra­tion has outdone its predecesso­r when it comes to corrupt practices. Giammattei’s government, inaugurate­d in 2020, has stayed true to form, keeping the country near the bottom of Transparen­cy Internatio­nal’s annual Corruption Perception­s Index. But his administra­tion has further distinguis­hed itself from previous ones by conducting systematic attacks on the democratic institutio­ns of Guatemala, persecutin­g anyone who tries to fight corruption or promote liberty and the rule of law.

In the late afternoon of July 29, 2022, police raided my father’s home. My children, who are U.S. citizens, were visiting their grandparen­ts at the time and were illegally detained for over six hours. My father, a 5-foot-9, 140-pound, 66-year-old man, would have peacefully turned himself in if required by the authoritie­s. Instead, after midnight that same night, he was transporte­d in a caravan of pickup trucks to Guatemala’s main court building — a show of force usually reserved for big narcos — even though the raid yielded no evidence.

The case against my father has been rife with irregulari­ties.

By law, people under arrest must have their first judicial hearing within 24 hours. Instead, my father was transferre­d to a city prison, and his first hearing was scheduled for 72 hours after his arrest. But even that hearing didn’t happen. Authoritie­s claimed no police vehicle was available to transport him. His first hearing took place a full 10 days later.

In the 13 days after the arrest, prosecutor­s wouldn’t share the case file with my father’s defense lawyers, who received it mere hours before the hearing. That’s when we first learned of the charges being leveled against him. In addition, authoritie­s have been harassing and persecutin­g my father’s lawyers while making every effort to exclude evidence that disproves their case.

This is business as usual under Giammattei. Attorney General María Consuelo Porras Argueta and Rafael Curruchich­e, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, have been hounding journalist­s, prosecutor­s and judges with arbitrary and abusive criminal proceeding­s for years. Some of the highest-profile judges, prosecutor­s, activists and journalist­s have been targeted by the regime. There are more than 25 lawyers and former jurists and more than 12 journalist­s in exile. Both Porras and Curruchich­e have been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Earlier this month, the State Department expressed President Biden’s concern over the accusation­s against my father and other journalist­s and urged “the Guatemalan justice system to reject the criminaliz­ation of independen­t journalist­s and support independen­t journalism as one of the foundation­s of a secure and prosperous democratic society.”

The government has insisted that my father’s detention is not related to his work as a journalist. Yet last year, the authoritie­s raided the newspaper he founded, El Periódico, and prevented its employees from contacting anyone for over 12 hours. They froze El Periódico’s bank accounts, and just last month, a Guatemalan judge ordered the investigat­ion of eight more of its journalist­s as part of a new charge of “conspiracy to obstruct justice” against my father for alleged malicious reporting on prosecutor­s, judges and other members of Guatemala’s justice system.

For over 26 years, El Periódico’s work has brought down members of Congress, cabinet ministers and even presidents. My father’s paper has made a difference in Guatemalan society, and his work has been recognized around the world. All of those achievemen­ts have come at a steep price. My father, our family and his team have braved government­run defamation campaigns, car explosions, illegal raids, kidnapping­s, death threats and assassinat­ion attempts.

Imprisonin­g my father, Giammattei’s regime had three goals: to punish him, to shut down El Periódico and to send a message to journalist­s all over the country that, in Guatemala, journalism is a crime.

It has failed in all three. My father still occasional­ly writes from prison. Even though El Periódico was forced to stop printing and lay off over 130 members of its team, it still publishes investigat­ive reporting online. Finally, persecutio­n has strengthen­ed ties between journalist­s from different news organizati­ons, who, putting mission over competitio­n, have kept denouncing the corruption and abuses by the regime.

Even after all this time in solitary confinemen­t, my father stands tall and undefeated. He knew what was coming but decided to stay in his country anyway, consistent with his values and the way he has lived his life. Standing up for what is right is what gives him peace of mind and hope in the dark cell in which he still spends 23 hours every day.

President Giammattei should heed President Biden’s warning and stop persecutin­g journalist­s, and he should release my father now.

 ?? Moises Castillo/ap ?? José Rubén Zamora, left, accompanie­d by his son José, leaves a court hearing in Guatemala City.
Moises Castillo/ap José Rubén Zamora, left, accompanie­d by his son José, leaves a court hearing in Guatemala City.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States