RSF decries Guatemalan newspaper owner’s six-year jail sentence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the six-year jail sentence that has been imposed – just days ahead of Guatemala’s general elections – on José Rubén Zamora, the publisher of a newspaper critical of the government. Held in appalling conditions, Zamora must be freed at once and this sentence, the latest example of the government’s growing authoritarianism, must be overturned.
The founder and owner of the national daily El Periódico, Zamora was sentenced on 14 June to six years in prison on a trumped-up charge of laundering the equivalent of 35,000 euros that he supposedly obtained from a businessman in return for a promise not to publish damaging information about him.
Held for the past ten and a half months, Zamora denies the charge – which was brought against him as part of the government’s attempts to reduce him to silence – and has announced his intention to appeal.
During a visit to Guatemala with other press freedom NGOs last month, RSF confirmed that he is being held in appalling conditions. Aged 66, he has lost 16 kilos and has been subjected to constant isolation since his arrest in July 2022. He told members of the NGO delegation that he has also been subjected to psychological torture on several occasions since his arrest.
The judicial harassment of El Periódico forced this leading daily to close after 27 years of existence but it will not silence its founder. This cruel persecution must stop now. We deplore José Rubén Zamora's six-year prison sentence and the mistreatment to which he has been subjected, and we are very concerned about his state of health. He must be freed and his conviction must be overturned. It confirms the growing authoritarianism in Guatemala and bodes ill for the future of press freedom in a country that is electing a new president in just over a week.
Zamora was arrested on 19 July 2022, five days after El Periódico published information about cases of corruption involving people close to President Alejandro Giammattei. Eight journalists who used to work for the newspaper are also accused of obstructing justice in connection with a separate case against Zamora. Most of them have fled the country, as has Zamora’s wife, who left the day before the verdict was announced.
The campaign for Guatemala’s presidential and legislative elections on 25 June, in which Giammattei is constitutionally barred from running for a second term, has been marked by the electoral tribunal’s decisions to ban several leading candidates, resulting in accusations of bias in favour of Giammattei’s allies.
The press freedom situation on eve of the elections is worrying. RSF and the other members of the NGO coalition that visited Guatemala last month will publish a detailed report on their findings on 22 June.