Reviews | The Guatemalan government arrested José Rubén Zamora because he fears the truth

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“This is not a case against my father, this is a systematic attack on freedom of expression and democracy. They started with the activists, continued with the prosecutors and now they are starting to prosecute the journalists.

This is the truth about the recent arrest of renowned Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora, as eloquently expressed by his son, Ramón Zamora. In Guatemala, a country plagued by corruption and government impunity, the truth is hard to find. José Rubén Zamora, president and founder of the Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico, is one of the most important storytellers. “Since I started as a journalist in 1989, I have denounced the fact that we live in a narco-klepto-dictatorship that has kidnapped and shrunk us,” Mr. Zamora told the crowd that had gathered there. last week to watch security forces escort him to the court building. There, Mr. Zamora was falsely accused of money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling. Guatemalan authorities also raided the offices of El Periódico, a move the Association of Guatemalan Journalists said was aimed at censoring Saturday’s print edition.

Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Guatemalan office for the fight against impunity, claims Mr. Zamora’s arrest “has no relation to his status as a journalist” but rather “his status as a businessman”. Mr. Curruchiche presented no evidence to support this dubious assertion. Guatemalan justice has not yet provided either: Mr. Zamora’s appearance before a judge was canceled on Monday, apparently because his file was not available.

It is exactly this kind of non-transparency that Mr. Zamora has spent his career trying to combat and for which he has been brutally targeted before. Since its creation in 1996, El Periódico has become famous for publishing investigations into the Guatemalan government, including allegations of corruption in the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei. Mr. Zamora has won numerous international awards for his fight against censorship and his defense of press freedom. It’s a job he does at the risk of his life: in 2003, gang members held Mr. Zamora hostage in his own home and beat his sons. In 2008, Mr. Zamora was drugged, kidnapped, robbed, beaten and left for dead.

Mr. Zamora’s arrest is just the most recent and brazen example of the Guatemalan government’s attacks on press freedom. Giammattei’s administration has “targeted the media with belligerent rhetoric and false accusations”, according to Human Rights Watch, while government investigations into threats, harassment and killings of journalists come to nothing. Several senior Guatemalan officials, including Mr. Curruchiche, are on the State Department’s list of “corrupt and undemocratic actors” in Central America for obstructing investigations into government corruption. The Guatemalan government has arrested numerous anti-corruption prosecutors and judges. With the arrest of Mr. Zamora, it sends the unacceptable message that journalists are next.

‘Let me die if necessary, but let justice be done,’ Mr Zamora said said in a prison video tweeted on Saturday. He is on a hunger strike to protest his persecution, once again demonstrating his courage. If Guatemala is to retain any semblance of democratic legitimacy, Mr. Zamora must be freed and his charges dropped. For so long, on so many occasions, he has spoken out against the Guatemalan government. Now the world must speak for Mr. Zamora.

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