Guatemala detains renowned journalist on money laundering and blackmail charges

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By Sofia Menchus

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemalan authorities have arrested a well-known local journalist on charges of money laundering and blackmail, according to a prosecutor in charge of the case, a move that has sparked outrage among human rights activists.

Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, an outspoken government critic, was detained Friday night, Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Special Prosecution Service against Impunity (FECI) said on social media after police raided his home and office earlier.

Speaking from a cell in a video posted on Twitter on Saturday by a journalist for the local newspaper Prensa Libre, Zamora said he started a hunger strike in an expression of rejection of his persecution.

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A lawyer for Zamora did not respond to a request for comment.

Zamora, 65, founded the newspaper elPeriodico in 1996, a newspaper known for investigations that revealed several cases of government corruption.

“I want to make it clear that the arrest is not related to his capacity as a journalist, but to a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessman,” Curruchiche said.

An assistant prosecutor of FECI, Samari Carolina Gomez Diaz, was also arrested for her possible participation in the crime of disclosing confidential information related to Zamora, Curruchiche added.

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“This is a political persecution. I imagine there must be a conspiracy,” Zamora said Friday as he left for the court, guarded by police officers. He was due to appear in court later on Saturday.

Curruchiche himself was included this month on the so-called Angel List, a list of names the US government considers “corrupt and undemocratic” actors in the region.

Zamora’s arrest came amid a crackdown on prosecutors, judges, human rights activists, journalists and opposition officials by FECI, originally established to address investigations led by the later deposed UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala ( CICIG).

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At least five Guatemalan journalists from various media are currently in exile. More than a dozen former FECI prosecutors, judges and human rights activists have fled Guatemala over complaints and arrest warrants issued against them by the FECI.

Guatemalan business chambers, the country’s human rights watchdog and international human rights organizations have condemned Zamora’s arrest.

The government of President Alejandro Giammattei has not commented on the matter.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu, written by Cassandra Garrison; editing by Diane Craft)

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