Washington, D.C., July 27, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reiterated its urgent call for the release of Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora at a press conference on Wednesday marking a year since Zamora’s imprisonment in Guatemala.
“José Rubén Zamora’s imprisonment is a gross miscarriage of justice and a flagrant attack on journalism in Guatemala,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg in a written statement. “This case is a bellwether for democracy in Guatemala; the courts should right this wrong and release Zamora without delay.”
Speaking at the National Press Club, José Carlos Zamora, son of the jailed journalist; Guatemalan journalist in exile Bertha Michelle Mendoza; and CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna—in a discussion moderated by Sara Fischer, senior media reporter at Axios—called on the international community to act with greater urgency over Zamora’s case and the growing challenges faced by journalists in the region.
“The administration of Alejandro Giammattei has held my father hostage for 365 days based on a fabricated case and an absolute violation of due process,” said José Carlos Zamora at the press conference. “Governments realized that assassinating journalists comes at a very high cost, so it was easier to use the legal system to persecute them.”
Concurrent with the press conference, CPJ issued a joint statement, in partnership with over a dozen civil society organizations, urging Guatemala’s Eighth Criminal Sentencing Court to provide due justice in Zamora’s case to ensure his release without further delay.
“In the case of José Rubén Zamora, the situation has gotten worse in the last year until the international community started to put out very clear statements telling the government that this is not acceptable,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna. “They cannot wait. They cannot consider political calculations.”
Zamora, the founder of the independent investigative newspaper elPeriódico, was arrested on July 29, 2022, at his home in Guatemala City.
After being held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year, he was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to six years in prison on June 14, 2023. On May 15, 2023, elPeriódico, known for its reporting on alleged official corruption, shut down all publication.
Zamora’s arrest has been condemned by international watchdogs and rights organizations as retaliatory. In addition to Zamora, eight elPeriódico journalists and columnists are also under investigation for allegedly obstructing justice due to their coverage of the legal proceedings, and at least 20 journalists in Guatemala have gone into exile after being targeted for their work in recent years.
Zamora’s case comes amid a broader crackdown by the Guatemalan state on prosecutors and anti-corruption investigators. It highlights the continuing deterioration in press freedom in Central America, raising deep concerns about the safety of journalists and erosion of democracy in the region.