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Attacks on the press rise before Peruvian election

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A worker inspects ballots with images of presidential candidates in Peru. (AP/Martin Mejia)

New York, June 1, 2011--In the last month, at least eight Peruvian journalists were physically attacked, threatened, or verbally harassed in response to their coverage of the June 5 presidential race, according to regional press groups and local media. Most of the culprits appear to be supporters of each of the presidential candidates.

The government of President Alan García must ensure that journalists are able to cover the election, where right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori faces off against leftist former army officer Ollanta Humala, without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.   

 "In the days leading up to the presidential election, it is critical for local journalists to report freely on the problems facing Peru," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's Americas senior program coordinator. "Press freedom is vital as the nation approaches this vote."

Local journalists have been targeted with physical aggression, threats, and harassment for the last four weeks, according to CPJ research and the Lima-based regional press group Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS).

  • On May 6, a crowd of about 100 demonstrators attacked journalist Jaime De Althaus who hosts a political program on Lima-based television Channel N as he was leaving work, according to local press reports. The mob, initially characterized as being sympathetic to candidate Ollanata Humala, pushed and insulted the journalist, IPYS reported.  A Humala spokesperson later condemned the acts, denying that the group had ties to his party. On May 11, De Althaus received a message on his personal email account threatening him with death, IPYS said.
  • Security guards for candidate Keiko Fujimori assaulted two radio journalists, José Luis Lizárraga from Súper Éxito radio, and José Mandujano, from Studio 99, while they were covering a rally on May 10, said the Lima-based daily La República. According to local press reports, the journalists were taking pictures of a protester who was being beaten by the bodyguards after hurling an egg at Fujimori's vehicle.
  • The director of the Lima-based daily La Primera César Lévano said that he has received two death threats because his paper has come out in favor of Humala. On May 11, Lévano and Arturo Belaunde, president of La Primera's board, each received a funeral wreath at  La Primera, the press reported. The wreaths coincided with the paper's coverage of an alleged plot by the intelligence service to undermine Humala's presidential bid, the press said. The cards on the wreaths had IPYS and the press group Peruvian Press Council as the senders. Both groups denied any relation to the wreaths. Two days later, on May 13, an unidentified individual called the paper and said that Lévano was going to die.
  • Television journalist Elvis Italo Gillermo Espinoza reported threats left as cell phone messages, according to IPYS and press reports. The journalist said that threats came after he criticized Fujimori. Espinoza's show on the regional Channel 4 JSV was canceled on May 17. While Espinoza said the cancellation was related to his harsh criticism of Fujimori, the station's manager Janeth Santacruz Ramos it was canceled as a result of the journalist's lack of objectivity and responsibility, according to IPYS.  
  • Participants in a pro-Humala political rally verbally harassed journalist Luis Carlos Burneo on May 20 in Lima, the press said. Burneo, who reports for the television program "Enemigos Públicos" (Public Enemies) on Panamericana TV, was commenting on Humala's three-hour delay in arriving at the rally when his supporters started yelling anti-press slogans like "all journalism is trash." 

Earlier this month, the government's cabinet chief Rosario Fernández pledged protection and support to the news media. The official also called on the two presidential candidates to condemn any acts of violence or violent attitudes during the electoral campaign, the Peruvian daily El Comercio reported .

At a presidential debate on the topic of press freedom attended by CPJ's senior coordinator for the Americas, Carlos Lauría last month, both Humala and Fujimori pledged to respect press freedom.

"It is not enough for Fujimori and Humala to commit to press freedom once elected," said Lauría. "We call on both candidates to condemn harassment and acts of violence toward journalists covering the campaign by their supporters."

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