Media owner’s trial designed to silence Guatemala’s leading daily
A Guatemalan newspaper owner’s trial on a money-laundering charge with a possible 20-year prison sentence is designed to silence what is a leading independent national daily, one that has repeatedly exposed governmental corruption in Guatemala, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“I am a political prisoner and I have been treated as such,” El Periódico founder and owner José Rubén Zamora said when brought to court for the start of his trial on 2 May. Zamora is accused of trying to launder the equivalent of 35,000 euros that he allegedly extorted from a businessman in exchange for a promise not to publish compromising information about him.
Detained since 29 July 2022, Zamora insists on his innocence and say he is being persecuted because El Periódico exposed cases of corruption involving Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and people close to him.
Zamora had no legal representation at the start of his trial because two of his lawyers were arrested in mid-April for allegedly submitting false evidence.
“The real target of El Periódico owner José Rubén Zamora’s trial is independent journalism and the more than 150 reports that his newspaper has published about government corruption in Guatemala. After his arrest, the paper’s bank accounts were frozen, forcing it to stop publishing a print edition and to lay off 80% of its staff. The authorities have in practice managed to throttle what was a leading daily for all of Central America. We condemn this misuse of the courts and call on the Guatemalan government to immediately end this judicial harassment targeting not only Zamora but also his close collaborators and his lawyers.”
Zamora has been the target of separate judicial proceedings in recent months for allegedly obstructing justice in connection with another case of alleged money-laundering. The judge in charge of this other case says that nine of El Periódico’s journalists – five reporters, three columnists and its editor, Julia Colorado – could be prosecuted for alleged disinformation. Eight of them have already fled the country.
Zamora’s arrest in July 2022 coincided with the arrests of former anti-corruption judges while other judges fled abroad, in what was seen a major escalation in the Guatemala government’s authoritarianism.
Guatemala has dropped three positions in the new World Press Freedom Index 2023, and is now ranked 127th out of 180 countries.