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Guatemala detains renowned journalist and government critic

Speaking from a cell in a video posted to Twitter Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin said said he was beginning a hunger strike in a show of rejection to his persecution.
Guatemalan journalists Gonzalo Marroquin (L), Luis Felipe Valenzuela (R) and Juan Carlos Marroquin are seen outside the home of journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, president of the newspaper El Periodico, during an operation to arrest him in Guatemala City, on Friday. JOHAN ORDONEZ / AFP - Getty Images

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan authorities arrested a well-known local journalist on accusations of money laundering and blackmail, according to a prosecutor in charge of the case, a move that has sparked outrage among human rights activists.

Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, an outspoken government critic, was detained Friday night, said Rafael Curruchiche, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) on social media, after police raided his home and office earlier.

Speaking from a cell in a video posted to Twitter on Saturday by a journalist for local newspaper Prensa Libre, Zamora said he was beginning a hunger strike in a show of rejection to his persecution.

An attorney for Zamora did not respond to a request for comment.

Zamora, 65, founded the newspaper elPeriodico in 1996, an outlet famous for investigations that have revealed several cases of government corruption.

“I want to make it clear that the arrest has no relation to his quality as a journalist, but to a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessman,” Curruchiche said.

An FECI assistant prosecutor, Samari Carolina Gomez Diaz, was also arrested for her possible participation in the crime of disclosure of confidential information, related to Zamora, Curruchiche added.

“This is a political persecution. I imagine that there must be a conspiracy,” Zamora said Friday as he left for court, guarded by police officers. He was due to go before a judge later on Saturday.

Curruchiche himself was included this month on the so-called Engel List, a list that names those the U.S. government considers “corrupt and undemocratic” actors in the region.

Zamora’s arrest came amid a crackdown on prosecutors, judges, human rights activists, journalists and opposition officials by FECI, originally created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the later ousted U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

At least five Guatemalan journalists from different media outlets are currently in exile. More than a dozen former FECI prosecutors, judges and human rights activists have fled Guatemala over complaints and arrest warrants issued against them by the FECI.

Guatemalan business chambers, the country’s human rights watchdog and international rights organizations have condemned Zamora’s arrest.

The administration of President Alejandro Giammattei has not commented on the case.