In spite of widespread international criticism, the Guatemalan government has ramped up its efforts to criminalize those in the fight against corruption and impunity.
On July 29, police arrested one of Guatemala’s most prominent journalists. José Ruben Zamora–founder and director of the Guatemalan news outlet El Periodico–was arrested at his home in Guatemala City, following an extensive raid of his home and the newspaper’s offices. A prosecutor working with the Special Office of Crimes Against Impunity (FECI), Samari Gómez Díaz, was arrested on July 29, as well. The charges against them, according to the Public Ministry, are related to money laundering and leaking of information. The charges against Zamora also include blackmail and influence peddling. They have been held in pretrial detention since their arrest.
El Periodico, founded in 1996, has been internationally recognized for excellence in investigative journalism, and over the years, Zamora has faced threats, harassment, and intimidation. As explained by his son Ramón Zamora, however, the arrest of Zamora is part of a coordinated and escalating effort by the Guatemalan government to constrict civic space: “This is not a case against my father, it is a systematic attack against freedom of expression and democracy. They started with the activists, continued on to the prosecutors, and now they are starting to pursue journalists.”
On August 19, in spite of international outcry surrounding Zamora’s arrest, Guatemala’s Public Ministry ordered the arrest of Flora Silva, the finance director of El Periodico. Silva’s home was raided prior to her arrest. According to a statement released by El Periodico, Silva had been cooperating with Public Ministry authorities since the investigation began into alleged blackmail and money laundering by Zamora. Silva had a hypertension crisis during the raid and was hospitalized after her arrest. She was transferred to Mariscal Zavala prison following her discharge from the hospital on August 23.
GHRC/USA has issued an Urgent Action Alert, asking that messages be to the Guatemalan embassy demanding the immediate release of Zamora and those spuriously charged in connection with him, the development of a public policy to protect human rights defenders, and an end to persecution of journalists and defenders of human rights. See our Alert and take action here.