New York, Feb. 25, 2000---In a letter sent to President Alberto K. Fujimori on Wednesday, CPJ expressed deep concern about the court-ordered confiscation of broadcast equipment used by the independent station Radio 1160. Ostensibly, the equipment was seized in compensation for an old debt. But according to CPJ's sources, the real purpose of the February 16 raid was to silence journalist César Hildebrandt's recently-launched program "Ondas de Libertad" ("Freedom Waves"), which has aired critical views of the Fujimori regime.
The seizure is part of a broader pattern of using debt-collection mechanisms to stifle independent media voices. This tactic has added to an oppressive climate for independent journalism during the run-up to the April 9 general election, in which Fujimori is running for a third presidential term despite strong constitutional objections.
Radio 1160 is a well-respected station, based in Lima, that was founded over 25 years ago. Although it historically concentrated on music programming, the station added political coverage during the current presidential and legislative election campaign.
Hildebrandt is known as a strong critic of the Fujimori government. He and his team had planned to premiere "Ondas de Libertad" on February 3, but this plan was interrupted by a raid on February 2. Renting and borrowing equipment, the program managed to go on the air on February 10. In total, four two-hour programs were broadcast, each repeated the following morning.
The night before the February 2 raid, Hildebrandt aired an interview with President Fujimori's ex-wife, Susana Higuchi, who is currently an opposition candidate for Congress. During the interview, Higuchi accused Fujimori of being corrupt. At approximately 8:40 a.m.--just after a second broadcast of the interview--officials simultaneously raided Radio 1160's studios and its transmitting facility, located in two different Lima neighborhoods. The action was ordered by the 47th Lima Civil Court.
The pretext of the raid was to collect a debt that the station had owed local businessman Franco de Ferrari for more than two years.
The raid was not carried out by police officers, but by what appeared to be an organized mob. Approximately 40 police officers watched as the intruders roughed up one company executive, according to Radio 1160's general news producer Oscar Becerra.
The intruders confiscated the station's audio consoles, monitors, microphones, compact discs, antennae, and other equipment. Many of the items did not appear on the court's list of equipment to be confiscated, and several belonged to another company.
Hildebrandt is no stranger to President Fujimori's ongoing campaign against the independent Peruvian press. On December 21, judicial police attempted to prevent the distribution of the daily Liberación, which Hildebrandt edits. Liberación was launched in early November, 1999, and rapidly became known for its hard-hitting coverage of the Fujimori government.
The officers, accompanied by the secretary of the 59th Lima Civil Court, arrived at the offices of Lea, the company that prints Liberación, with two cranes and a bulldozer. Using this heavy machinery, the officers broke down the printing company's main door.
The owner of the building, Abraham Hochman Bilbao, and staff members prevented the officers from seizing any company assets. After an hour and a half, the court secretary suspended the operation.
The operation was ostensibly aimed at recovering a three-year-old debt owed by the owner of the building where the paper is printed. But according to CPJ's Peruvian sources, the raid was in fact prompted by articles published in Liberación concerning a US$2 million bank account held by Vladimiro Montesinos, an advisor to Fujimori who is the chief of the Peruvian intelligence services Hochman does not own the printing presses that were the target of the raid. Moreover, the debt case against Hochman had been dormant for three years.
While Liberación has been able to continue publishing, "Ondas de Libertad" is currently off the air. In a February 17 editorial in Liberación titled "We'll return," Hildebrandt assured his readers that the station was in the process of obtaining another transmitter, and would shortly resume broadcasting.