Press Releases

Vance Center, Law Firms Submit Merits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Imprisoned Guatemalan Journalist José Rubén Zamora

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May 8, 2024 – A pro bono team of lawyers from the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and law firms King & Spalding and Colombara Estrategia Legal today submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) outlining ongoing violations of the rights of imprisoned Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora Marroquín.

The petition outlines multiple violations of Zamora’s rights resulting from his continued detention, including his rights to due process and defense, excessive delays and inconsistencies in the criminal cases against him, poor conditions in his jail cell, and serious health concerns resulting from those conditions. The document urges the Commission and the Guatemalan state to take immediate action to ensure Zamora’s rights and well-being, to facilitate his release from pretrial detention, and to protect press freedom and other fundamental human rights.

“This petition concerns spurious processes in which all the fundamental rights of my father, the journalist Jose Rubén Zamora, have been violated, and within which he has been arbitrarily detained for more than 645 days,” said Jose Zamora, the imprisoned journalist’s son. “We demand his freedom through a fair trial, with impartial judges who do their work in accordance with the law, and call on both the Public Ministry and the judicial system to put an end to malicious delays. We are convinced that if this happens, my father will be acquitted. It is vital that the IACHR and the State of Guatemala act to defend the Rule of Law and guarantee due process.”

“The facts in the merits petition submitted today on behalf of José Rubén Zamora add to the mountain of evidence that his continued detention is a violation of multiple human rights and has no possible justification,” said King & Spalding counsel Douglass Cassel, a member of the legal team that submitted the petition. “The Commission should take decisive action to ensure that Guatemala complies with its obligations to protect Zamora’s rights and health, and Guatemalan judges and prosecutors should end this retaliatory farce and release Zamora from detention.”

Zamora, an award-winning journalist and founder of independent newspaper elPeriódico, has been held in pretrial detention since his arrest on July 29, 2022, on charges of money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling. On June 14, 2023, he was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine for alleged money laundering. In October, a Guatemalan appeals court overturned the sentence and absolved him of the influence peddling and blackmail charges. No new sentence has been issued, but Zamora has remained in preventive detention. He also faces criminal charges in two other proceedings, for obstruction of justice and alleged use of false documents.

The Vance Center and numerous other rights organizations have criticized the trial proceedings for multiple rights violations, including failure to guarantee due process and harassment and bringing criminal charges against a series of defense lawyers.

The merits petition also positions the case against Zamora in the context of the Guatemalan state’s pattern of threats, intimidation and criminal proceedings against investigative journalists, anti-corruption prosecutors, and other human rights defenders.

Last week, the IACHR’s Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression issued a statement expressing similar concerns about Zamora’s ongoing pretrial detention and noting there has not been any regular review of his precautionary measures, even as the criminal proceedings against him have faced repeated delays.

The pro bono team from the Vance Center, King & Spalding, and Colombara Estrategia Legal has represented Zamora before the Commission since late 2022. The legal team previously submitted a request to the Commission to amplify the precautionary measures it first issued to protect Zamora in 2003, when he was a target of political violence.

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The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, a non-profit program of the New York City Bar Association, promotes global justice by engaging legal professionals around the world to support the work of civil society and an ethically active legal profession. It brings together leading law firms and other partners around the world to promote international justice initiatives and provide pro bono legal representation to civil society organizations that fight for social justice.

The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 23,000 members, is to equip and mobilize a diverse legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.