Still imprisoned for investigating well-known Guatemalan journalist

Still imprisoned for investigating well-known Guatemalan journalist

APTOPIX Guatemala journalist arrested (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

APTOPIX Guatemala journalist arrested (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

An award-winning Guatemalan journalist who was jailed over alleged money laundering charges, which government critics have denounced as a coercive tactic, has previously faced repercussions for his work.

In 2003, government agents ransacked the home of José Rubén Zamora Marroquin and threatened his life after he wrote a column claiming that former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, then President of Congress, was running a parallel government.

Five years later, gunmen kidnapped Zamora in Guatemala’s capital before beating and drugging him and releasing him outside the city ten hours later. No one was arrested, but it was believed at the time that this was a reaction to his newspaper’s work.

Plainclothes investigators and police officers with assault rifles arrested Zamora at his home on Friday. His first appearance before a judge was canceled Monday because the case file appeared to be unavailable. The hearing was not immediately rescheduled, meaning Zamora would remain in prison.

It also meant the details of the charges against Zamora remain a mystery. Government investigators also raided El Periodico’s offices on Friday and detained its employees for more than 15 hours.

Zamora founded El Periodico in 1996 and quickly gained a reputation for exposing government corruption. The newspaper reported on the current government of President Alejandro Giammattei and at least three of his predecessors.

Last year and this year El Periodico published a series of investigations into Russian businessmen visiting Guatemala who met with Giammattei. The newspaper’s investigation accused Giammattei of accepting bribes in exchange for a property concession in the port of Santo Tomas de Castilla.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, recently reappointed by Giammattei for another term as the country’s top law enforcement official, has been sanctioned by the United States for launching investigations into prosecutors and judges investigating corruption.

On Monday, authorities searched the home of one of those previous targets, former judge Erika Aifán, who fled to the United States after denouncing corruption.

Porras’ special anti-corruption prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche, who is handling Zamora’s case, has also been sanctioned by the US government for allegedly impeding corruption investigations.

Curruchiche said the case focused on Zamora’s work as a businessman rather than a journalist, but has not offered any details.

That was difficult for others at El Periodico to reconcile because the government had frozen the newspaper’s bank accounts.

“The bank accounts were frozen at the request of the[prosecutor’s office]with the sole intention of crippling the media company’s finances and making it impossible to honor its employment and contractual obligations,” said Gerson Ortiz, News of El Periodico director.

Zamora’s son, Ramón Zamora, was more direct. “This is not a case against my father, it is a systematic attack on freedom of expression and democracy,” he said. “They started with the activists, went on to the prosecutors and now they’re starting to prosecute journalists.”

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