Opinion | The Guatemala government arrested José Rubén Zamora because it fears the truth
Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Guatemalan anti-impunity office, claimed Mr. Zamora’s arrest “has no relation in his capacity as a journalist” but rather “his capacity as a businessman.” Mr. Curruchiche offered no evidence to support this dubious assertion. Guatemala’s justice system has conveniently not yet provided any either: Mr. Zamora’s appearance before a judge was canceled Monday, apparently because his case file was unavailable.
It’s exactly this kind of nontransparency that Mr. Zamora has spent his career trying to fight and for which he has been brutally targeted before. Since its founding in 1996, El Periódico has become well-known for publishing investigations into the Guatemalan government, including into corruption allegations in President Alejandro Giammattei’s administration. Mr. Zamora has won numerous international awards for combating censorship and advocating for press freedom. It’s work he does at great personal risk: In 2003, gang members held Mr. Zamora hostage in his own home and beat his sons. In 2008, Mr. Zamora was drugged, abducted, robbed, beaten and left for dead.
Mr. Zamora’s arrest is only the latest and most brazen example of the Guatemalan government’s assaults on press freedom. Mr. Giammattei’s administration has “targeted the media through bellicose rhetoric and false accusations,” according to Human Rights Watch, while government investigations into threats against, harassment of and murders of journalists go nowhere. Several top 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 Mr. Zamora’s arrest, it sends the unacceptable message that journalists are next.
“Let me die if necessary, but let there be justice,” Mr. Zamora said in a video from jail tweeted on Saturday. He is in the middle of a hunger strike to protest his persecution, once again demonstrating his courage. If Guatemala wants to retain any semblance of democratic legitimacy, Mr. Zamora must be released and his charges dropped. He has for so long, on so many occasions, spoken up against the Guatemalan government. Now, the world must speak up on Mr. Zamora’s behalf.