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GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemalan prosecutors on Tuesday asked a court to impose a 40-year jail sentence on the founder of a newspaper critical of the government in a money laundering case widely denounced as a show trial.

Journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, 66, has already been behind bars for 10 months awaiting trial in a case media organizations say amounts to an attack on freedom of expression in a country clamping down on government detractors in several spheres.

Zamora was arrested last July and charged with money laundering, blackmail and influence peddling. He denies the charges.

The prosecution claims he extorted money from business leaders in exchange for not publishing damaging information about them.

He says the money on the charge sheet came from the sale of a work of art to finance his El Periodico newspaper, dragged into financial straits by his arrest.

Zamora, who has won international awards for his paper’s investigative journalism, accuses President Alejandro Giammattei and Attorney General Consuelo Porras of trying to silence him for bringing government corruption to light.

Founded in 1996, El Periodico closed earlier this month, citing “criminal persecution and economic pressure.” Its journalists and columnists are also under investigation.

It is not just the media under fire in Guatemala.

The country has detained a number of former anti-corruption prosecutors and members of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed entity that helped unearth several graft scandals. It was closed by the government in 2019.

Many former prosecutors are in exile today, claiming to be the victims of persecution and revenge for the work they did.

The United Nations in January voiced “deep concern” over what it called threats, harassment and reprisals faced by justice officials and human rights defenders in the Central American country.

Porras has been added by the United States to a list of “corrupt actors” for hampering then firing an anti-mafia prosecutor.

Last week, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court dismissed a leading opposition politician’s bid to be allowed to take part in next month’s presidential election. -AFP