Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora leaves court after being sentenced him to six years in prison on money laundering charges in Guatemala City on June 14, 2023. A February 5, 2024, report by TrialWatch assigned a failing grade to the legal proceedings in the trial of Zamora. (AFP/Johan Ordonez)

‘Severe fair trial violations’ reported in José Rubén Zamora’s case

Mexico City, February 5, 2024—A report released Monday by TrialWatch assigned a failing grade to the legal proceedings in the trial of award-winning Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora, citing numerous breaches of international and regional fair-trial standards and concluding that the prosecution and conviction of Zamora are likely retaliatory measures for his investigative journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the concerning violations revealed in the fairness report, reiterates the call for authorities to respect Zamora’s right to a fair trial, and urgently calls for international pressure to secure Zamora’s immediate release and hold those responsible for these violations accountable.

“The findings in a report monitoring trial fairness for Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora showed the proceedings were irregular, and he was repeatedly denied his right to defense,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Zamora was prosecuted in retaliation for his investigative reporting on government corruption and has been subjected to an abusive process from actors who themselves are accused of corruption. He shouldn’t have spent a single minute in jail.”

TrialWatch, a flagship initiative of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, monitors the trials of journalists worldwide, grading their fairness and ranking judicial systems on a global justice index. 

The TrialWatch report meticulously outlines severe irregularities in Zamora’s trial, including limited access to evidence for defense lawyers, challenges in maintaining legal representation, and an erroneous reversal of the burden of proof.

“José Ruben Zamora has been in detention for more than 18 months. Every day, it becomes increasingly urgent for Guatemala’s courts to address the fair trial violations identified in this report,” Stephen Townley, legal director of TrialWatch, told CPJ.

Authorities arrested Zamora, the president of elPeriódico newspaper, on July 29, 2022. Following more than a year of legal proceedings, he was convicted of money laundering in June 2023 and sentenced to six years imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 quetzales (approximately US$38,000). An appeals court overturned Zamora’s conviction in October 2023 and ordered a retrial on the money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling charges.

Zamora is also being prosecuted in another case, accused of obstructing justice alongside eight elPeriódico journalists and columnists. CPJ was unable to confirm Zamora’s next court date for this case.

Zamora is expected in court on February 20, to face another obstruction of justice case based on the same complaint that began the money laundering investigation in 2022.

On May 15, 2023, elPeriódico ceased online publication and closed operations after 26 years due to government pressure.