Seattle International Foundation (SIF), through its Independent Journalism Fund (IJF) and Anti-Impunity Fund (AIF), expresses deep concern over the detention in Guatemala of journalist José Rubén Zamora and the raid on the offices of newspaper elPeriódico, of which he is the founding president. SIF calls upon the Guatemalan authorities to respect all constitutional guarantees and the freedom of the press in the country.
Zamora is a journalist who has won international honors for his work that includes investigating government corruption, and who has received precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). He was apprehended at his residence on the night of Friday, July 29, by means of an operation by the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) of the Public Ministry (MP) due to alleged charges related to money laundering. Pending his initial appearance before a judge, Zamora was detained in the prison on the Mariscal Zavala military base, along with dozens of people that he and his newspaper have investigated and denounced for acts of corruption.
On the same day, Friday July 29, the Public Prosecutor’s Office also arrested Samari Gómez, assistant prosecutor of the FECI. Her case is among those against a dozen justice operators who have been spuriously accused, persecuted, or forced into exile by the FECI and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, whose leaders Rafael Curruchiche and Attorney General Consuelo Porras were included in the List of Corrupt and Anti-Democratic Actors of the Department of State of the United States, known as the “Engel List”.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has determined that the cases against journalist José Rubén Zamora and assistant prosecutor Samari Gómez will remain secret. As such, the public, including journalists, is not allowed to attend the proceedings against Zamora and Gómez, and there is no access to information about the cases. Today, Zamora’s lawyer reported that he has yet to be granted access to the case file against his client and elPeriódico indicated that their bank accounts have been frozen.
Guatemalan journalists have reacted to Zamora’s arrest with protests and with demands that authorities respect the freedom of the press. National and global institutions and the international community, including the United States government, have called for the respect of due process rights and for the protection of the personal safety of the journalist and the assistant prosecutor.
The freedom of the press and the independence of justice operators are pillars of democracy, and they are fundamental rights that the State of Guatemala is required to respect.
SIF’s Independent Journalism Fund supports independent journalists and alternative media in Central America, enabling them to investigate and inform about the realities in the region, give voice to the citizenry, and fulfill their important role in democracy. The Anti-Impunity Fund supports key actors in strengthening the rule of law and democracy in Central America.