The IAPA Criticizes the Lack of Judicial Independence in Guatemala

The organization condemned the ruling against José Rubén Zamora

Miami (June 15, 2023) – Because of the six-year prison sentence against journalist José Rubén Zamora, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) reiterated its strong criticism of the Guatemalan judicial system and its institutional fragility.

The president of the IAPA, Michael Greenspon, expressed that "although the IAPA is respectful of judicial rulings, we cannot fail to reiterate our criticism of the Guatemalan Justice system for its lack of independence." Greenspon, global director of Printing Licensing and Innovation at The New York Times, added: "We reiterate our condemnation of the lack of guarantees of due process and the right to defense," aspects that Zamora also denounced in court.

Carlos Jornet, president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said: "This is a low blow for press freedom in Guatemala." Jornet, journalistic director of the newspaper La Voz del Interior of Argentina, considered it "contradictory or, at least suspicious, that a journalist, whose denunciations of public corruption led presidents and high officials to jail, ends up in jail."

Greenspon and Jornet hoped an independent and impartial tribunal would hear the appeal process. They added that the IAPA would closely monitor the case to continue looking for irregularities in the judicial process.

The Eighth Court of Guatemala sentenced Zamora, president and founder of elPeriódico, to six years in prison without commutation and the payment of a fine of 300,000 quetzals (more than 38,000 US dollars) for the crime of money laundering. Zamora was acquitted of two other charges of blackmail and influence peddling, charged by the Public Ministry because the criminal actions attributed to him were not proven. Zamora has been in prison since July 29, 2022. Prosecutors had requested a sentence of more than 40 years.

Greenspon and Jornet expressed that the IAPA will continue to denounce the judicial persecution and harassment of journalists in Guatemala around this case. They recalled that six journalists and three columnists from elPeriódico are being investigated, and the outlet was forced to close its operations on May 15 due to political and economic pressures.

An international delegation from the IAPA traveled to Guatemala last December. After visiting Zamora in jail, witnessing a day in court, and holding meetings with officials from the Executive Branch and the Public Ministry and with representatives of civil society and human rights organizations, the IAPA concluded that "the weakness in the functioning of the institutions is expressed in the lack of independence of the public authorities."

In its report on Guatemala during the biannual meeting in April, the IAPA denounced a lack of due process and highlighted that the government used the Public Ministry to file charges against Zamora's lawyers to block his defense possibilities and against other journalists who only gave their opinions, about the case.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.