President of the Republic of Peru
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly condemn the June 18 arrest and conviction of Julio Sotelo Casanova, the former general manager of the television station Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2. CPJ regards Sotelo’s jailing as further evidence of a systematic campaign against the independent press in Peru.
On June 18, the Court of Tax and Customs Crimes, headed by interim Judge Nicolás Trujillo López, ruled that Sotelo was guilty of fraud and illegal alteration of corporate documents. Sotelo is alleged to have illegally transferred shares of Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 from Baruch Ivcher, the majority shareholder, to his four daughters in 1997.
In July of that year, Ivcher, who was born in Israel, was stripped of his adopted Peruvian citizenship and thereby made ineligible to own a television station under Peruvian law. As stated in past letters, we believe this action was taken in direct reprisal for investigative reports of Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2, including stories that implicated Peru’s intelligence services in the wiretapping of journalists and members of the opposition. Ivcher is now in exile in the United States and Israel. The charges against Sotelo were filed by Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2’s former minority owners, the brothers Mendel and Samuel Winter, who currently exercise majority control over the station.
Sotelo is serving sentence in San Jorge Prison. Because he suffers from poor health, he has petitioned for transfer to a hospital for medical treatment. His sentence is in appeal before the Appeals Court of Tax and Customs Crimes.
CPJ believes the ruling against Sotelo lacks merit. According to our information, it has been duly established that Ivcher’s daughters have been legitimate shareholders in Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 since 1994. Incarceration is an unprecedented punishment for the crimes of which Sotelo is accused and can therefore only be understood as a warning against Ivcher and his associates. In our opinion, Sotelo’s conviction provides further evidence of a campaign of political persecution aimed at decimating investigative journalism in Peru.
In fact, we are currently reviewing documents, allegedly produced by the Peruvian intelligence services, that outline a campaign of systematic harassment and intimidation against independent journalists. One memorandum, addressed to the director of the Army Intelligence Service and titled “Journalists II,” notes, “investigative journalists will be investigated one by one and followed to their work and to their home; any detail referring to special assignments that they are carrying out will be noted.” A June 24, 1997, memorandum alleges that the goal of Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 is “to endanger the work carried out by the government and the army on a national and international level” and “to remove the current president of the republic, Alberto Fujimori.” Given the pattern of government-authored harassment of the independent press, we find it plausible that the campaign mentioned in the documents we are reviewing does indeed exist.
As Your Excellency will be well aware, CPJ named you one of the world’s 10 worst enemies of the press on May 3, 1999-World Press Freedom Day. Since then, we have seen no sign of improvement of the situation of independent journalists in Peru.
Based on evidence we have received, we believe that the Internet website of the Association for the Defense of the Truth (APRODEV) was created and maintained at the behest of Peru’s intelligence services with the sole intention of defaming journalists and opponents of your government. After the 20th Lima Criminal Court ruled on May 11 that APRODEV had to remove defamatory articles, the two judges who handled the case–Greta Minaya and Antonia Saquicuray of the 20th and 47th Lima Criminal Courts, respectively–were replaced. (Sotelo was one of the people who filed the defamation charges against APRODEV as Ivcher’s representative.)
After the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) instigated the legal action against those responsible for publishing the defamatory articles on APRODEV’s website, IPYS’ e-mail was deliberately sabotaged, according to technicians.
On May 31, a new publication hit the stands in Lima, bearing the name Repúdica, a derisive play on the name of the Lima-based daily La República. The sole purpose of Repúdica seems to be defaming journalists and members of the opposition. This inflamatory publication joins other tabloids such as El Tóo, which over the last few months has incessantly published defamatory articles about La República publisher and congressman for the opposition Gustavo Mohme Llona. Given earlier evidence that the Peruvian intelligence services were behind the publication of those tabloids, we suspect official government involvement in the publication of Repúdica.
When CPJ met with Your Excellency one year ago, on June 23, you promised to investigate a possible campaign against independent journalists. We have not received any results from this investigation despite our repeated requests. Because of evidence of an orchestrated campaign against the independent press, and because you have failed to meet commitments made to us to investigate past abuses, we are holding Your Excellency responsible for the legal harassment, as well as the threats and intimidation of the independent press.
We urge you to see to it that Sotelo be released immediately, and that he be acquitted of the charges he is unjustly facing.
Ann K. Cooper
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