Vance Center Continues Advocating with IACHR in Zamora Case

June 2023

The Vance Center welcomes a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Guatemala to meet with government officials and the Vance Center team concerning the case of imprisoned journalist José Rubén Zamora, and continues to call for Zamora’s release from prison pending appeal. 

A hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Photo credit: CIDH/Flickr)

On June 9, on the eve of Zamora’s conviction and sentencing on money laundering charges, the Commission (IACHR) asked Guatemala to agree to let it visit the country to meet with the government and the Vance Center team concerning the case.   

The Vance Center team quickly welcomed the Commission’s proposal and has agreed to participate in any discussions, but continues to ask that, at minimum, Zamora be freed from prison pending appeal. To date, Guatemala has not responded to the Commission’s request.  

The Vance Center has worked on Zamora’s case since shortly after the founder and former editor of independent newspaper elPeriodico was arrested in July 2022. In September 2022, Zamora asked the Vance Center to represent him before the Commission. Assisted by pro bono lawyers from King & Spalding and the Chilean law firm of Ciro Colombara, the Vance Center asked the Commission to amplify the precautionary measures it first issued to protect Zamora in 2003, when he was a victim of political violence.   

In the request, lawyers from the Vance Center and its pro bono partners noted the case against Zamora appeared to be in retaliation for elPeriodico’s long history of reporting on and critiquing government corruption. Since his arrest, the 66-year-old Zamora had been kept in pretrial imprisonment, even though there was no finding that he was a flight risk.  

The Vance Center team asked the Commission to request his immediate release to home arrest, but the Commission did not take this action during the more than 10 months Zamora spent in pretrial detention. During this time, the Vance Center continued updating the Commission on the latest violations of his rights to fair trial and assistance of counsel, both protected by the American Convention on Human Rights. 

On June 14, 2023, Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine for alleged money laundering. The Vance Center and numerous other rights organizations, as well as news reports, 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. Two days earlier, prosecutors announced they had filed an additional charge against Mr. Zamora for a supposedly false signature on a customs declaration in 2015. 

Guatemala’s upcoming presidential election runoff, set for August 20, may spell changes for the government’s recent turn toward harassing and persecuting anti-corruption judges, prosecutors, journalists, and other human rights defenders. Regardless of the election outcome, the Vance Center and its partners will continue to call for Zamora’s release and for regional and international bodies to act to guarantee fundamental rights in Guatemala.