UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Calls for Release of Guatemalan Journalist José Rubén Zamora

July 2024

The opinion responds to a complaint filed by the Vance Center before the human rights body in August 2023.

July 2, 2024 – The ongoing detention of Guatemalan investigative journalist José Rubén Zamora is arbitrary and violates international law and he should be released immediately, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a decision made public on Monday.  

Zamora, the founder and former editor of independent newspaper elPeriódico, has been detained since his arrest in July 2022 for alleged financial crimes. In June 2023, he was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine for alleged money laundering. The Vance Center and numerous other rights organizations have criticized the trial proceedings for multiple violations of Zamora’s rights, including failing to guarantee due process and harassing and bringing criminal charges against a series of defense lawyers.  

The Vance Center filed a complaint before the UN Working Group in August 2023, arguing that Zamora’s continued imprisonment met the definition of arbitrary detention. 

In its opinion, which cited the Vance Center’s documentation of the case multiple times, the independent group of experts determined that Zamora’s case falls within the defined categories of arbitrary detention. Among its conclusions, the group found that Zamora’s detention constitutes a violation of international law for discrimination based on his political position as a reporter investigating corruption. 

The document calls on the Guatemalan government to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Zamora without delay and to bring it into conformity with the relevant international standards.”  

“The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Zamora immediately and to grant him the effective right to obtain compensation and other forms of reparation,” it says. 

The opinion determines that Guatemala has no basis to keep Zamora in detention and calls for his immediate release. It notes the Guatemalan government’s accusation that Zamora might have tried to use elPeriódico‘s resources to obstruct justice, “but in that case Mr. Zamora should have been released at least by May 15, 2023, when elPeriódico closed,” it says. 

The opinion urges Guatemala to “conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Zamora’s arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to take appropriate action against those responsible for the violation of his rights.”  

“This landmark opinion is important not only for José Ruben Zamora’s case, but also because it establishes a legal precedent. For the first time, the UN Working Group determined that detaining someone for their political stance against corruption constitutes arbitrary detention,” said Vance Center Program Advisor Wilmer González. “This decision clearly spells out what the Guatemalan government must do next: release Zamora immediately and take necessary steps to remedy the violations of his rights.” 

The Vance Center has represented Zamora since shortly after he was arrested in July 2022. Assisted by a team of pro bono lawyers from King & Spalding and the Chilean law firm of Ciro Colombara, the Vance Center has repeatedly asked the Commission in 2022 to amplify the precautionary measures it first issued to protect Zamora in 2003. 

The decision is available here.