In widening crackdown, renowned journalist arrested in Guatemala

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In another sign of increasing political repression in Guatemala, authorities have arrested an award-winning journalist who criticized the government and raided the offices of the newspaper he founded.

José Rubén Zamora, President of the elPeriodic newspaper, was arrested Friday night at his home in Guatemala City on charges of possible money laundering, blackmail and influence drag, according to the Guatemalan attorney general’s office.

“There must be a conspiracy, a persecution,” Mr Zamora told reporters outside his home while he was detained by police. “If that’s the case, we’ll have to pay for the love of Guatemala with jail time.”

The arrest of Mr. Zamora is the latest step by the Guatemalan authorities to quell political dissent and crush attempts to expose corruption in the government of President Alejandro Giammattei, which has become an increasing challenge for the government- Biden and her goal of eradicating corruption in Central America.

In May, the State Department announced sanctions against the country’s Attorney General, María Consuelo Porras, who accused her of involvement in “significant corruption” and of attempting to derail corruption investigations, firing prosecutors and more. .

“During her tenure, Porras has repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala in order to protect its political allies and obtain undue political favors,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The sanctions seemed to have little effect.

Earlier this month, according to Human Rights Watch, Ms Porras deposed eight prosecutors in a matter of weeks, including Hilda Pineda, who had sued former President Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes including genocide.

In addition to Mr Zamora’s arrest, authorities arrested an assistant prosecutor in the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, Samari Carolina Gómez Díaz, for “disclosing confidential information”, Rafael Curruchiche, who heads the Office for Combating Impunity, said in a video message on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Mr. Curruchiche has been placed on a State Department list of people from Central America accused of having been “deliberately involved in acts that threaten democratic processes or institutions, been involved in significant corruption, or obstructed investigations”. giving them access to the US

In the video statement, Mr Carruchiche repeatedly emphasized that Mr Zamora’s arrest was “not related to his work as a journalist”, but was instead related to “his position as a businessman”.

Led by Mr Zamora, elPeriodic had reported on several corruption allegations within the Giammattei government, including within the prosecutor’s office, and his sudden arrest was widely criticized by human rights groups.

“This case could be a breaking point for Guatemala’s guarantees of free speech,” Juan Pappier, senior American researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an email. “If this continues, soon there will be no one who can effectively expose and curb corruption and abuse of power in the country.”

In addition to arresting Mr Zamora, the Guatemalan authorities also raided elPeriodics offices on Friday night, forcing some 30 employees to leave the building, while several others were held in the offices all night with their phones taken away, the paper reported.

The Guatemalan Journalists’ Association said in a statement that the raid was carried out “to censor the Saturday print edition of elPeriodic.”

“The allegations against Zamora and elPeriodic are part of a campaign of persecution, criminalization and censorship,” the statement read, “against media and journalists who do not bow to the interests of state authorities.”

Mr. Zamora has been recognized internationally for his work in Guatemala, with awards including the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University and an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a video posted on social media on Saturday Mr. Zamora from behind bars and said he would go on a hunger strike to protest his arrest.

“Let me die if I have to,” he said. “But let there be justice.”





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