Guatemalan court grants house arrest to journalist José Rubén Zamora, yet he remains in prison

On May 15, the Ninth Court of Criminal Sentencing in Guatemala granted a substitute measure of house arrest, without surveillance, to journalist Jose Rubén Zamora, as reported by Guatemalan media. However, the founder of elPeriódico remains in prison due to another case against him.

José Rubén Zamora talks from court

Journalist José Rubén Zamora was granted house arrest, but remains in prison as he awaits a hearing on a second case. (Photo courtesy Prensa Comunitaria)

"They offered for me to leave the country and I never left. I was waiting for them to arrive at my house and there they found me... I have always shown my face," Zamora said during his statement before the court.

The presiding judge of the Ninth Court, Verónica Ruiz, said during the resolution of the case that after evaluating the documents provided by the defense, she concluded that there is no danger of flight or obstruction to the truth.

"Unfortunately, he cannot leave until his situation is resolved in the other case," explained his lawyer Francisco Vivar.

The decision comes after Zamora, founder of elPeriódico, has spent 655 days in pre-trial detention despite having a conviction for money laundering overturned by a Guatemalan appeals chamber in October 2023. A retrial was ordered in that case.

He also faces a second case from the Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor's Bureau (FECI for its acronym in Spanish) for alleged obstruction of justice. According to reporting from Divergentes, the FECI also “requested a new case for the crime of use of falsified documents,” related to signatures on tickets to leave the country.

Numerous international and national organizations have pointed out violations of human rights and international law throughout his cases.

After the NinthCourt’s decision decision, Guatemalan journalists said on social networks that a Court Chamber separated Judge Jimi Bremer, sanctioned by the United States through the Engel list, from the second case against journalist Zamora.

The second case will be reviewed on June 15, according to Factor Cuatro.

José Rubén Zamora, upon leaving court, told Prensa Comunitaria he was “tired, satisfied and happy.”

“I expected this to happen. Although I was prepared if this didn't go well. Aware that I must return in a few weeks,” he continued. “It is an obstruction of justice that has no basis and we have abundant evidence to prove it. I hope that from there I go home.”

The journalist’s son, José Zamorta, has said his father has been tortured and held in isolation during his time in prison.

Just one day before his conditional release to house arrest, José Rubén Zamora was given the Gabo Foundation’s Recognition of Journalistic Excellence for “three decades of tenacious and courageous professional work.”

Additionally, the board for the renowned Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University in New York City released a statement on May 13 condemning the criminalization of independent journalism in Latin America, mentioning Zamora’s case specifically.

As news spread about the granting of house arrest, Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo posted to his X account: “The political persecution of José Rubén Zamora is one more example of the dark cycle of impunity that must end.”

“The path to his freedom will be accompanied by sovereign rulings by brave judges, and by the timely attention of the people of Guatemala who demand a country with justice, work and development,” he added.

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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