In Widening Crackdown, Renowned Journalist Arrested in Guatemala

In another sign of growing political repression in Guatemala, authorities arrested an award-winning journalist critical of the government and raided the offices of the newspaper he founded.

José Rubén Zamora, president of El Periódico press, was arrested at his home in Guatemala City on Friday night on charges including money laundering, extortion and peddling influence, according to the Guatemala attorney general’s office.

Mr. Zamora told reporters outside his home as he was being held by police. “If that’s the case, we must pay for Guatemala’s love with prison time.”

Zamora’s arrest is the latest move by Guatemalan authorities to crack down on dissent and crush efforts to expose fraud in President Alejandro Giammattei’s government, which has become a challenge. growing toward the Biden administration and its goal of stamping out corruption in Central America.

In May, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the sanctions against the country’s attorney general, María Consuelo Porras, accusing her of engaging in “substantial corruption” and of trying to derail graft investigations, by firing prosecutors and more so again.

“During her tenure, Porras repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor,” said Secretary of State Antony. Blinken said in a statement.

Sanctions don’t seem to have much effect.

Earlier this month, Ms. Porras overthrew eight prosecutors in a matter of weeks, according to Human Rights Watch, including Hilda Pineda, who brought former president Efraín Ríos Montt to trial for crimes including genocide.

As well as arresting Mr. Zamora, authorities detained an assistant prosecutor at the special prosecutor’s office for impunity, Samari Carolina Gómez Díaz, for “disclosure of classified information”, Rafael Curruchiche , head of the anti-sanctions office, said in a video message on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Mr. Curruchiche was was included in the list of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs people from Central America who are accused of having “knowingly engaged in conduct that threatens democratic processes or institutions, significantly corrupts, or obstructs investigations,” barring them from entering the United States.

In the video statement, Mr Carruchiche repeatedly stressed that Mr Zamora’s arrest “has nothing to do with his work as a journalist” but is instead related to “his position as a journalist”. how to be an entrepreneur”.

Under the leadership of Mr. Zamora, elPeriodico reported on several allegations of corruption within the Giammattei government, including in the prosecutor’s office, and his sudden arrest was widely criticized by human rights groups.

Juan Pappier, senior fellow for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said in an email. “If it continues like this, it won’t be long before no one will be able to effectively expose and curb corruption and abuse of power in the country.”

In addition to the arrest of Mr. Zamora, the Guatemalan authorities also raided elPeriodico’s on Friday night, forced about 30 employees out of the building, while several others were locked in the office overnight with their phones, the newspaper reported.

Guatemalan Journalists Association said in a statement that the raid was carried out “to censor the Saturday print edition of elPeriodico. “

“The accusations against Zamora and elPeriodico is part of a campaign of arrests, criminalization and censorship,” the statement read, “against media and journalists who do not bow to the interests of state agencies”.

Mr. Zamora has been recognized internationally for his work in Guatemala, with honors including Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Award and the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award.

In a video post on social media on Saturday, Mr. Zamora spoke from behind bars, saying he would begin a hunger strike to protest the arrest.

“Let me die if need be,” he said. “But let there be justice.”

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