Gabo Foundation recognizes José Rubén Zamora for 30 years of courage and tenacity, awards him Recognition of Excellence

The Gabo Foundation’s Recognition of Journalistic Excellence will be awarded this year to Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, founder and director of elPeriódico and who has remained in prison for more than 650 days.

The foundation announced the recognition on May 14 and said its Governing Council decided to grant this recognition to Zamora “by virtue of his more than three decades of tenacious and courageous professional work” to reveal corruption and human rights abuses in Guatemala.

“José Rubén Zamora is the paradigm of an investigative journalist and possibly the greatest symbol of the fight against corruption in Latin American journalism. It is difficult to find someone in this region who has reported more cases of corruption and who ends up in prison along with those whom he helped send there through his stinging investigations,” the Governing Council said in its explanation of the recognition.

José Rubén Zamora - Guatemala

José Rubén Zamora was arrested on July 29, 2022, accused of money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling. He has been in prison ever since. (Photo: Courtesy)

Zamora published more than 200 journalistic investigations that revealed an alarming level of corruption in Guatemala during the government of former President Alejandro Giammattei, between 2020 and 2024. His humorous column El Peladero, published weekly in elPeriódico, was the space for many of these revelations, according to the governing council’s record.

This journalistic work touched a nerve of   authoritarian power in Guatemala, which unleashed a campaign of persecution and harassment that ended in the raid of Zamora's house and the facilities of elPeriódico, and finally in the arrest of the journalist on July 29, 2022, according to the document. He was accused of money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling.

“As corruption and abuses increased, the animosity against Zamora and elPeriódico – and also against other journalists and media outlets that dared to challenge the media blockade with their publications – grew stronger. Good journalism became a threat and an enemy to power. And they sought to set an example by punishing the journalist that many had as a reference: José Rubén Zamora,” the record said.

Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison for alleged money laundering after a trial that has been highlighted by multiple voices for alleged violations of international and regional standards. Furthermore, during his imprisonment, the journalist has suffered torture and isolation, according to his son, José Zamora, who, among other family members, has led the campaign for his father's release.

The conviction against Zamora was overturned four months later by a Guatemalan appeals chamber, which ordered the judicial process to be repeated. However, and despite the fact that the new administration of President Bernardo Arévalo, who came to power in January 2024, showed signs of better treatment of the press, Zamora’s case remains stalled.

The Gabo Prize Governing Council, made up of 13 journalists, writers and academics, including the director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Rosental Alves, said that the challenges that have marked Zamora's career in the Guatemalan and Central American context are evidence of excellence in journalistic practice.

“What greater sign of excellence than that of a journalist who has dedicated more than 30 years to investigating corruption in his country with a democracy on tenterhooks? [...] That despite being forced into exile and having been warned about the inclusion of his name on a list of people who will be executed, he returns to his country to continue his fight," the record said. “José Rubén Zamora is the paradigm of an investigative journalist and possibly the greatest symbol of the fight against corruption in Latin American journalism.”

newspaper cover showing a person entering a labyrinth

elPeriódico, the newspaper founded by Zamora in 1996, was forced to close its doors in May 2023, with its director in jail. (Photo: Courtesy)

The Governing Council said that the recognition of Zamora is also a fervent call to look for new ways to protect freedom of the press and to vindicate good journalism, “that good journalism that is like oxygen for citizens and that Zamora represents in an emblematic way.”

The Gabo Foundation's Recognition of Journalistic Excellence adds to the list of awards that Zamora has received for his work in journalism, including the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (1995), the María Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University (1995) and the King of Spain International Journalism Award (2021).

As detailed by the Gabo Foundation in its statement, each year its Governing Council chooses a journalist or journalistic team that stands out for its independence, integrity and commitment to the ideals of public service of journalism, to receive the Recognition of Journalistic Excellence.

The journalists who have received the recognition since its creation in 2013 are Giannina Segnini (2013), Javier Darío Restrepo and Marcela Turati (2014), Dorrit Harazim (2015), the team of digital media outlet El Faro (2016), Jorge Ramos (2017 ), Ignacio Escolar (2018), Jesús Abad Colorado (2019), the Radio Cooperativa team (2020), Pedro X. Molina (2021), Juan Villoro (2022) and Jennifer Ávila (2023).

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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