In Guatemala, the conviction of a journalist illustrates the authorities’ willingness to gag the press

The Guatemalan press held its breath on Wednesday June 14, as Judge Oly Gonzalez began reading the sentence against journalist José Ruben Zamora, accused of money laundering, blackmail and influence trading. Two hours after the verdict: sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering, the former head of the newspaper The Periodical he was acquitted of blackmail and influence trafficking charges.

Of course, the most prestigious Guatemalan journalist has avoided the forty years in prison demanded by the prosecution. At the end of the day, after eleven months in prison, a former prosecutor of the special prosecutor against impunity (Feci), Samari Gomez, who was in the dock next to the 66-year-old journalist, was released. The court found that the prosecution failed to prove that they disclosed confidential information to José Ruben Zamora.

On Wednesday, Zamora’s colleagues were unanimous in recalling the importance of releasing Mr.Myself Gomez likes to denounce the seriousness of the journalist’s sentence: “First, José Ruben Zamora remains in prison. Then the prosecution managed to destroy the newspaper The Periodical, which of course was their goal. Finally, they sent, with this masquerade of justice, a message of intimidation to all the country’s media.”reacts Francisco Rodriguez, who worked for seven years with José Ruben Zamora and now heads the independent media Public square. The newspaper The Periodicalfounded in 1996 by Mr. Zamora and which had already been published only on the Internet since December 2022, was forced to cease all activity on May 15, citing the “criminal persecution and economic pressure” performed on it.

Serious abuse against his defense

This process, “the fastest in the history of Guatemala”, as his eldest son, José Carlos Zamora, calls him, has had a major impact on the profession, already rocked by multiple attacks on press freedom in recent years. During his eleven hearings, the journalist, known for his investigations into corruption, was portrayed as a “master singer” which has abused its dominant position. According to the prosecutor Cinthia Monterroso, the investigative journalism ofThe Periodical it was not, in fact, “just a front to launder money. Those who have not agreed to finance the newspaper have seen their reputation destroyed in its pages”.

The journalist’s former colleagues watched helplessly as a series of serious abuses against his defense throughout the trial. “Four of his lawyers have been indicted, two of whom are now in jail. Two others abandoned it after being threatened, testifies the journalist Claudia Mendez, who worked for fifteen years for The Periodical. I’ve seen a new attorney appointed in a hearing when he hadn’t in any way studied the file or talked to his client. » Eight former media journalists who disappeared for the articles they wrote about the trial of their boss will also be tried. Unsurprisingly, the prosecution appealed the sentence, deemed too weak by Rafael Curruchiche, head of the special prosecution against impunity.

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