June 15, 2023 -BBC News –A Guatemala court has sentenced leading journalist José Zamora to six years in jail for money laundering, in a case condemned by human rights groups.
Zamora, 66, was also fined $38,000 (£30,000) – but cleared of blackmail and influence-peddling charges.
He described the charges against him as “political persecution”.
Zamora is the founder of El Periódico, a newspaper that regularly reported on alleged corruption involving President Alejandro Giammattei and his allies.
The popular daily paper shut down in May after nearly 30 years in operation.
During the high-profile trial in capital Guatemala City, the state prosecutor’s office sought a sentence of 40 years for the respected journalist.
Outside court, Zamora said he was “still innocent” of the charges against him, and that his wife had been forced into exile in the US over fears she might also be targeted by President Giammattei’s government.
Civil rights groups say Wednesday’s court’s ruling is the latest erosion of democracy in the impoverished Central American nation – just days ahead of a general election in which four opposition candidates have been disqualified.
They also point to what they describe as growing authoritarianism under Mr Giammattei’s rule.
The president denies the accusations.
Zamora was arrested last July – a move that was soon followed by police raids on El Periódico’s office and his home in Guatemala City.
The raids were widely covered in the country’s national media, with several television channels live-streaming the event.
Rafael Curruchiche, the head of the Guatemalan public ministry’s anti-corruption unit, later said that Zamora was being charged “as an individual businessman, not as a journalist, and this action is not against his paper”.
Zamora has won several international journalism awards, including Columbia University’s prestigious Maria Moors Cabot prize for distinguished work in upholding press freedom in the Americas and contributing to inter-American understanding.