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Guatemala court opens door to freeing journalist from jail

Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, founder of the now defunct newspaper El Periodico, arrives handcuffed for a hearing at the Justice Palace in Guatemala City
Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, founder of the now defunct newspaper El Periodico, arrives handcuffed for a hearing at the Justice Palace in Guatemala City - Copyright AFP/File JOHN MACDOUGALL
Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, founder of the now defunct newspaper El Periodico, arrives handcuffed for a hearing at the Justice Palace in Guatemala City - Copyright AFP/File JOHN MACDOUGALL

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday granted a prominent journalist and corruption critic a conditional release in an impugned graft case, though he must clear another legal hurdle before being freed from prison.

Jose Ruben Zamora has rejected money-laundering accusations against him as retaliation for his newspaper’s reporting on alleged government corruption under former right-wing president Alejandro Giammattei.

A criminal court granted the 67-year-old home detention while awaiting a retrial on those charges, its president Veronica Ruiz announced.

The three judges decided there was no danger of Zamora fleeing or obstructing the investigation and criminal proceedings against him.

However, he will not be freed from the military barracks in Guatemala City until a separate obstruction of justice case against him is resolved.

Zamora told journalists after the ruling that he was waiting for a hearing date in that case, which he said he believed would be “dismissed and I can go home.”

In October 2023, an appeals court overturned a six-year prison sentence for Zamora — the founder of the now-shuttered El Periodico — and ordered a new trial.

A date has not yet been set.

Press freedom and rights groups have denounced his prosecution as a “witch hunt.” 

On Tuesday, Colombia’s prestigious Gabo Foundation named Zamora as the winner of its annual journalism award for his “tenacious and courageous professional work.”

Jose Carlos Zamora, the journalist’s son, told AFP in an interview on Wednesday his father had suffered “torture” in prison during Giammattei’s government.

Zamora Jr., who now lives in Miami with his mother and brother, said his father saw prison “as part of his work” and that it “helped expose abuses of power in Guatemala.”

Giammattei was been accused by rights groups of overseeing a crackdown on anti-graft prosecutors and journalists during his term, which ended in January.

He was replaced by President Bernardo Arevalo, an underdog anti-corruption campaigner who overcame attempts by the political establishment to block his inauguration.

AFP
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