Crime & Justice

Trial of muckraking journalist begins in Guatemala

Guatemala City, May 2 (EFE).- One of Guatemala’s most respected journalists went on trial here Tuesday nine months after his arrest on charges of blackmail, money laundering and influence-peddling.

“They are going to convict me in this trial,” Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin told reporters as he entered the courthouse in Guatemala City, noting that the judge has already barred an important defense witness from testifying.

Zamora, the founder and editor of El Periodico newspaper, was taken into custody on July 29, 2022, after police spent nearly eight hours searching his residence in the capital.

The 67-year-old journalist, who describes himself as a “political prisoner,” has been behind bars since then.

Over the past decade, El Periodico has uncovered instances of corruption in three different presidential administrations, including that of incumbent Alejandro Giammattei.

The daily has published more than 150 stories about wrongdoing in the current government and the editor’s arrest came five days after the daily published a broadside against Giammattei and his cronies.

At the start of Tuesday’s session, defense attorneys questioned the methods used by the prosecution to obtain recordings of their client’s telephone conversations.

But when Zamora rose to complain about “abuse of force” by the police who arrested him last year, Judge Oly Gonzalez interrupted to tell the defendant that he will get a chance to make a statement at a later stage of the trial.

Last December, the same judge found former anti-corruption prosecutor Virginia Laparra guilty of an administrative offense.

Like Zamora, Laparra has been a thorn in the side of the Giammattei administration.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said last week that the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office is using the Zamora case to “degrade freedom of expression” in the Central American country.

The AG Office recently opened an investigation into six El Periodico reporters and columnists for their “malicious” stories about the case.

At least 30 judges, prosecutors, civic activists, and journalists have fled Guatemala since 2018, citing political persecution as the reason for going into self-imposed exile.

The prosecutor handling the case against Zamora, Rafael Curruchiche, was sanctioned last year by the United States for allegedly obstructing corruption investigations in favor of bringing charges against officials with a track record of success battling graft.

In 2021, Zamora, who has survived an assassination attempt and a kidnapping over the course of his decades-long career, accepted on behalf of El Periodico a King of Spain International Journalism Prize, presented by King Felipe VI.

EFE dte/dr

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