The IPI global network calls on Guatemalan authorities to release and drop charges against journalist and IPI World Press Freedom Hero José Rubén Zamora, president and founder of the newspaper elPeriódico. Zamora was arrested at his home in Guatemala City on Friday on charges including alleged money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling. The newspaper and local press groups have described the arrest as an act of persecution and censorship against critical media.

Guatemalan police arrested Zamora and raided the headquarters of the newspaper  elPeriódico on Friday, July 29, according to the newspaper. The prosecutor said that Zamora was arrested as a part of an investigation into alleged money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling. He is being held at the Mariscal Zavala prison in Guatemala City.

Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), claimed in a video statement that the arrest has no relation to Zamora’s capacity as a journalist but rather “to a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessman”.

However, the Association of Guatemalan Journalists said in a statement that the accusations are part of a campaign of persecution, criminalization, and censorship against media outlets and journalists that do not bow to the interests of state authorities.

According to the association, the raid on elPeriódico’s office was done to censor the Saturday print edition of the newspaper. During the raid, the authorities forced around 30 employees out of the building, while several others were held inside the offices all night with their phones taken away, the newspaper reported. The authorities also confiscated some personal equipment from employees.

Zamora, 65, founded elPeriódico in 1996. The newspaper has reported on several allegations of corruption within the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei, including within the prosecutor’s office.

Earlier in July, Curruchiche, the head of the special prosecutor’s office, was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of people from Central America accused of having “knowingly engaged in acts that threaten democratic processes or institutions, engaged in significant corruption, or obstructed investigations”, The New York Times reported.

In a video posted on Twitter on Saturday, Zamora announced that he would begin a hunger strike to protest against his detention.

On Saturday elPeriódico tweeted that despite constant attacks, persecutions and threats, it would not be silenced.

One of IPI’s 72 World Press Freedom Hero 

IPI called for Zamora’s immediate release.

“Authorities should immediately release and drop charges against José Rubén Zamora and refrain from misusing criminal prosecutions to intimidate the press”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The IPI global network strongly condemns this serious escalation of pressure on the media in Guatemala. The harassment of critical media is unacceptable in a democracy.”

Over the weekend journalists in Guatemala City protested against Zamora’s arrest. During his career, Zamora has received a number of death threats and has been shot at on more than one occasion. In 2003, Zamora and his family were held hostage in their home by armed men for several hours in order to get Zamora to stop publishing stories. In 2008, the journalist was kidnapped and beaten before being found unconscious on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Zamora has received multiple awards in his career. In 2000 IPI named him a World Press Freedom Hero.

Journalists in Guatemala have faced increasing harassment, attacks, and violence over the past several years. In June, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) added Guatemala to its list of countries committing serious human rights violations.