A Supreme Court decision overturning a local mayor’s conviction in the murder of a radio journalist alarmed the news media and punctuated a year in which provincial reporters faced threats and attacks from local officials and their supporters.
Citing a lack of evidence, the high court ordered the release of Yungay Mayor Amaro León León and two other defendants convicted in the February 2004 slaying of Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, a radio reporter who had criticized the local government. León, who immediately retook office, threatened legal action against de la Torre Echeandía’s wife, Dina Ramírez, when she sought more information on the Supreme Court’s decision and a new investigation into her husband’s killing. After León’s supporters threatened her and protested outside her home, Ramírez told CPJ, she moved her family to Lima.
In September, Ramírez and the local press freedom group Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) submitted the case to the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that the government of Peru had allowed the murder to go unpunished. The commission—the human rights monitoring arm of the Organization of American States—can urge Peruvian authorities to reopen the case.
Although journalists in Lima are rarely targeted with violence, CPJ research shows that threats and attacks nationwide have trended upward since 2004. In interviews, journalists and press freedom advocates described an increasingly hostile climate, especially in the country’s interior, where an aggressive and attack-oriented press has clashed with corrupt and criminal elements. As of November, IPYS reported receiving 27 complaints of physical attacks and 17 complaints of threats. Journalists said intimidation was especially pervasive in &AACUTE;nchash, a region north of Lima that has been identified by IPYS as the most dangerous area for journalists.
Recent history provides some context for the trends. The era of corruption that defined Alberto Fujimori’s presidency from 1990 to 2000 was marked by dogged and widely praised investigative reporting. Lima-based dailies and national television stations contributed to exposing the regime’s excesses, eventually forcing Fujimori and his top aides to resign. In the years since, analyses by the Columbia Journalism Review and others have found that the investigative press itself has been prone to excess, even tapping phone conversations at times. Journalists interviewed by CPJ agreed that some journalists have been overzealous in their techniques and consumed by scandal.
Six newspapers circulate nationally; two radio stations broadcast nationally, as do several television stations. In Peru’s interior, however, most citizens get their news from local radio stations that focus heavily on local politics.
Journalists who reported on drug trafficking also faced grave dangers. Marilú Gambini Lostanau, host of the weekly television program “Confidencial” on Canal 31 in the northeastern city of Chimbote, received death threats in March after reporting on the influence of drug traffickers in the country’s politics. On April 2, Gambini and her family left Chimbote and reported the threats to authorities in Lima.
On several occasions during the 2006 presidential campaign, journalists were harassed by political activists angered by press reports they perceived as biased. Alan García of the Peruvian Aprista Party defeated Ollanta Humala, the Peruvian Nationalist Party candidate, in a June 4 runoff. IPYS documented at least four campaign-related attacks, three said to be perpetrated by Humala supporters. The Humala campaign complained about unfair coverage.
Protests also generated attacks on the press. In June, journalists were threatened, shoved, kicked, and hit with sticks by protesters demonstrating in Lima against the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, according to the National Association of Peruvian Journalists. In August, four television reporters covering violent protests against Yanacocha, a mining company, were held hostage for several hours in northern Cajamarca province, the Peruvian press reported. The same month, students protesting against the mining company claimed that the media were biased and attacked two television reporters, according to IPYS.
Five men were convicted in February in the 2004 slaying of Alberto Rivera, a host on radio station Frecuencia Oriental. Pucallpa Mayor Luís Valdéz Villacorta and three others still faced charges of plotting the killing. News reports said that Rivera had accused Valdéz of having links to drug trafficking.