In Guatemala, a new authoritarian drift against the press

Renowned Guatemalan journalist José Ruben Zamora, in preventive prison since August 10, says: “This is political persecution! » His arrest, after he revealed corruption cases involving President Alejandro Giammattei, in office since 2020, and his relatives, sparked outrage beyond Guatemala’s borders against the government’s authoritarian excesses.

Director and founder of the daily the newspaper, Mr. Zamora, 65, was arrested on July 29 at his home in the capital of this small Central American country (17 million inhabitants). Twelve days later, a judge charged him with “money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling”. The accused maintains his innocence. He denounces “a montage orchestrated by the president and the attorney general [Consuelo Porras] ».

Mr. Zamora’s arrest came a few days after the publication by the newspaper of several articles critical of Mr. Giammattei and Porras. At the start of the year, the newspaper also echoed revelations of a $2.6 million bribe received by the president to finance his electoral campaign, in exchange for the awarding of contracts. public.

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In response, hundreds of Guatemalans demonstrated in the capital on August 11 to demand the journalist’s release and an end to political corruption. A claim also demanded by many international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), which denounces the instrumentalization of justice for repressive purposes. Not counting the “concerns” expressed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. He linked Mr. Zamora’s arrest to other “legal actions against justice officials in Guatemala”referring to the dozen judges and prosecutors, engaged in the fight against corruption, arrested or forced into exile for months.

Popularity at half mast

On July 29, Samari Carolina Gomez, assistant prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), was also arrested for alleged “disclosure of confidential information” in the Zamora case. FECI was created in 2008 to work with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) launched by the UN a year earlier to investigate corruption cases. For eleven years, the collaboration between the FECI and the Cicig had made it possible to prosecute dozens of politicians, soldiers and big bosses. At the head, President Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015), forced to resign by accusations of fraud on customs revenues which had led him to preventive prison. But his successor, Jimmy Morales, put an end to the Cicig, in September 2019, after being himself the subject of an investigation for illicit financing of his presidential campaign.

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