The SRFOE warns about the continued preventive detention of journalist José Rubén Zamora and asks the State of Guatemala to report regularly on the judicial proceedings against him

May 2, 2024

Washington D.C.- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) warns about the continued preventive detention of journalist José Rubén Zamora, who has been detained since July 2022. According to the information available, to date there have been no periodic reviews of the precautionary measure nor have the criminal proceedings against him been concluded. The Office of the Special Rapporteur announces that it will closely monitor this situation and asks the State to send periodic reports to monitor the situation of journalist Zamora.

José Rubén Zamora, founder and director of the media outlet El Periódico, is facing three criminal proceedings. According to the information received, first, he was arrested on July 29, 2022 on charges of racketeering, influence peddling, and proposition and conspiracy to launder money. On June 14, 2023, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison for the crime of money laundering. However, in October of that same year, a Guatemalan appeals court overturned the sentence and acquitted him of the charges of influence peddling and racketeering. To date, no new sentence has been issued but the preventive detention remains in place. The second proceeding concerns the alleged conspiracy to obstruct justice. So far in 2024, the SRFOE has received reports about the repeated suspension of the court hearing to determine whether the journalist should face trial in this process. This proceeding has been rescheduled on at least five occasions since December 13, 2023, the date on which the initial hearing was scheduled. These rescheduling would be related to the absences of the prosecutor and the judge in charge of the case, and the recent recusal of the judge on March 20, 2024. The third trial is for the alleged continuous use of false documents.

In addition to this context, information has been provided to the Office of the Special Rapporteur regarding troubling background that would evidence serious limitations to the right of defense of journalist José Rubén Zamora. In this regard, during a period of nine months, Zamora was allegedly forced to change legal representation on several occasions, having up to ten different defense attorneys. This constant change of lawyers has occurred in the midst of allegations of harassment and even the filing of criminal complaints against those who were providing his legal defense. The Special Rapporteurship also learned of the definitive closure of the media outlet El Periódico on May 12, 2023.

The Special Rapporteurship reminds the State of Guatemala, fundamentally its judicial authorities, that there is a judicial obligation to process with greater diligence and promptness those criminal proceedings in which the accused is deprived of his liberty. Likewise, it is the duty of the judicial authorities to periodically evaluate whether the causes, necessity and proportionality of the precautionary measure of detention are maintained and whether the term of preventive detention has exceeded the limits imposed by law or common sense. This includes the duty to consider other less harmful measures to ensure his appearance when "the term of pretrial detention exceeds what is reasonable".

Consequently, the Office of the Special Rapporteur requests the State of Guatemala to submit reports every four months to this Office on: (i) the reasons why the restriction on the liberty of journalist José Rubén Zamora is maintained; (ii) how the conditions of reasonableness of the term are satisfied, in accordance with Inter-American standards on the matter; (iii) the judicially established reason why there would not be a less harmful alternative to guarantee the progress of the criminal proceedings; and (iv) when a review of the preventive detention measure will be carried out and a final judgment will be issued in each of the criminal proceedings against him.

Finally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the Guatemalan judicial authorities to act diligently and swiftly to resolve the legal situation of journalist José Rubén Zamora, in accordance with international standards on due process, pre-trial detention and freedom of expression.

The Commission recalls that Zamora is the beneficiary of precautionary measures from the IACHR, after identifying that his rights to life and personal integrity are at risk, since 2003, for reasons related to his journalistic work and the exercise of freedom of expression in Guatemala. In February 2024, at the invitation of the President of the Republic, an IACHR delegation composed of the Executive Secretary and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression conducted a follow-up visit to the Precautionary Measures in favor of journalist Zamora. The visit included a meeting with the journalist in prison, as well as meetings with the different authorities related to his case, who provided information on his state of health and the conditions of his detention.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. R086/24

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