Cuba, Guatemala and Nicaragua among countries with imprisoned journalists; Jailed journalists nearing record globally

At least 320 journalists are imprisoned around the world, according to records collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as of Dec. 1, 2023. The figure, which was released Jan. 18 along with the publication of its annual report on journalists in jail, is the second highest recorded by CPJ since it began keeping track in 1992.

“[The number is] a disturbing barometer of entrenched authoritarianism and the vitriol of governments determined to smother independent voices," CPJ wrote in the report.

Although no country in Latin America and the Caribbean is on the 2023 list of “the worst jailers of journalists,” Cuba, Guatemala and Nicaragua are included in the annual report because each country has an imprisoned journalist.

The most notable case is that of journalist José Rubén Zamora, who remains imprisoned in Guatemala despite the fact that a court in the country annulled his six-year prison sentence handed down in June 2023 for alleged money laundering. The court ordered a new trial, currently scheduled for February 2024, but Zamora remains imprisoned.

National and international organizations have pointed to alleged irregularities in the case against Zamora. According to expert voices, his case is allegedly part of a larger framework including different powers of the State with the purpose of silencing the press and political opponents, as well as persecuting and cornering judicial operators and lawyers who take on media cases. Zamora, for example, has had to change lawyers eight times in what is allegedly retaliation against him: four of them have faced criminal charges.

In the midst of this judicial process, in May 2023 Zamora was forced to close elPeriódico, the media outlet he founded in 1996. Until the moment of its closure, it had won international awards and recognition, and had dedicated itself to investigating cases of corruption of different governments.

The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its acronym in French) is leading an online campaign calling for Zamora's immediate release. As part of the campaign, his son José Zamora recently published a video in which he talks about the conditions in which the journalist finds himself. “He spends 23 hours a day [in his cell], he only has one hour of light,” his son reported.

In its recent report, CPJ notes, “In Guatemala, a pattern of anti-press attacks has attempted to censor and silence independent and investigative outlets.”

In Nicaragua, the report mentions the case of Víctor Ticay, an independent journalist and correspondent for Channel 10 who was sentenced to eight years in prison on Aug. 15, 2023 for the crimes of “treason and false news.” Ticay was detained on April 6, 2023 while covering a religious event within the framework of a Holy Week celebration.

However, it was only until May 19 that the Prosecutor's Office formally accused the journalist of treason and cybercrimes. His relatives reported that during those more than 40 days, the journalist was a victim of “forced disappearance” because they never had information about his whereabouts or the reason he was detained.

CPJ said the accusations against Ticay “fit a pattern of legal harassment, intimidation, and criminal charges against independent journalists in Nicaragua as President Daniel Ortega’ has escalated efforts to stifle free expression.”

In Cuba, journalist and activist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca was sentenced on July 28, 2022 to five years in prison for the crimes of “continued enemy propaganda.” The journalist, however, had already spent more than a year in prison by the time of his sentencing after being detained on June 15, 2021.

At the time, the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP) denounced that the journalist was “deceptively summoned” by the National Revolutionary Police to allegedly close an investigation opened in 2020 against him for the alleged crime of contempt. However, upon arrival they realized the “trap,” according to his wife, and the journalist was notified that he would be sent to the headquarters of the Political Police, known as Villa Marista, ICLEP added. Eventually, the journalist was transferred to the Combinado del Este maximum security prison in Havana.

Since he was detained, the deterioration of his health has been reported. The most recent complaint was in October 2023 when his wife indicated that the authorities “are letting him die.” In her Facebook post, his wife demanded he be transferred to a hospital.

Although there are only three countries in the region mentioned in the report, CPJ highlighted the dangers that media and journalists continue to face in the region.

“The relatively low numbers of journalists jailed in Latin America and the Caribbean…belie the threats to media in a region where other countries, notably Honduras and El Salvador, continue to undermine press freedom and where numerous journalists have been forced into exile,” CPJ wrote in its report.

Worldwide, the list of the “worst jailers of journalists” is led by China with 44 people imprisoned. It is followed by Burma, with 43, and Belarus, 28. For this year, CPJ highlighted the situation of Israel, a country that “emerged as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists” after the escalation of its war with Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023. Israel is sixth on the list with 17 Palestinian journalists detained.


Translated by Teresa Mioli
Republishing Guidelines