Another sign of increased political repression in Guatemala is the arrest by the authorities of an award-winning journalist critical of the government and raids on the office of the newspaper he founded.
Jose Ruben Zamora, President newspaper newspaper, was arrested at his home in Guatemala City on Friday night on charges including possible money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling, according to the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office.
“There must be a conspiracy, a persecution,” Mr. Zamora told reporters outside his home as he was held by police. “If this is the case, we must pay for the love of Guatemala with imprisonment.”
The arrest of Mr. Zamora is the latest move by the Guatemalan authorities to crack down on political dissent and crack down on attempts to expose bribery in the government of President Alejandro Giammattei, an increasingly difficult task for the Biden administration to eradicate corruption in Central America.
In May State Department announces sanctions against the country’s Attorney General, Maria Consuelo Porras, accusing her of involvement in “significant corruption” and an attempt to disrupt the investigation of bribery, the dismissal of prosecutors, etc.
“During her tenure, Porras has repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain improper political support,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions appear to be ineffective.
Earlier this month, Ms Porras fired eight prosecutors in a matter of weeks. according to Human Rights Watch, including Hilda Pineda, who sued former President Efrain Ríos Montt for crimes including genocide.
In addition to arresting Mr. Zamora, the authorities detained the Assistant Prosecutor of the Samari Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, Carolina Gomez Diaz, for “disclosing confidential information” Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Impunity Unit, — said in a video message on Twitter.
Earlier this month, Mr Currucis was listed by the State Department Central Americans accused of “knowingly engaging in activities that threaten democratic processes or institutions, engaging in significant corruption or obstructing investigations” by banning them from entering the US
In a video statement, Mr. Carruchiche repeatedly insisted that Mr. Zamora’s arrest “had nothing to do with his work as a journalist” but instead was related to “his position as a businessman.”
Under the leadership of Mr. Zamora, newspaper reported several allegations of corruption in Giammattei’s administration, including the prosecutor’s office, and his sudden arrest was widely criticized by human rights groups.
“This case could be a watershed moment for guaranteeing free speech in Guatemala,” Juan Pappie, Senior Americas Fellow at Human Rights Watch, said in an email. “If this continues, soon there will be no one left who can effectively expose and stop corruption and abuse of power in the country.”
In addition to the arrest of Mr. Zamora, the Guatemalan authorities also ElPeriodico on Friday evening, causing about 30 employees to leave the building, while several others were held in offices overnight with their phones taken away, the newspaper reported.
Association of Guatemalan Journalists said in a statement that the raid was carried out “to censor the Saturday print edition newspaper“.
“Charges against Zamora and newspaper are part of a campaign of harassment, criminalization and censorship,” the statement said, “against the media and journalists who do not bow to the interests of state power.”
Mr. Zamora has received international recognition for his work in Guatemala, including the Maria Moores Cabot Award from Columbia University and the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In video posted on social networks On Saturday, Mr. Zamora stepped out from behind bars, saying he would go on a hunger strike to protest his arrest.
“Let me die if necessary,” he said. But let there be justice.