Attacks on the Press 1999: Peru

President Alberto K. Fujimori continued his efforts to suppress critical reporting in a year that ended with the long-anticipated announcement that he would seek a third five-year term, a move widely considered unconstitutional. The Fujimori government’s systematic campaign to discredit Peru’s independent press earned him a place on CPJ’s list of the top 10 enemies of the press.

CPJ has characterized the Fujimori government as an “infotatorship,” in which power is maintained through the control of information. Government intelligence agencies have used assassination plots, death threats, wiretapping, surveillance, and smear tactics to harass and threaten journalists, often forcing them into exile.

The judiciary also operates under Fujimori’s control and has been extremely compliant when called upon to prosecute journalists. One blatant example was the June 18 conviction of Julio Genaro Sotelo Casanova, the former general manager of the television station Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2, on charges of fraud and illegal alteration of corporate documents. According to CPJ’s sources, the case lacked all merit and represented yet another salvo in a two-year legal campaign against Baruch Ivcher, the station’s former owner. Ivcher, an Israeli immigrant who was a naturalized Peruvian, was stripped of his citizenship and, as a result, his right to own a television station after Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 aired a series of damaging investigative reports about the government.

Another example of the government’s legal tactics against the press was the intimidation of Asociación Prensa Libre, a press group. Without any credible evidence, the government accused Prensa Libre of forging documents to substantiate its claim that the Peruvian intelligence services were waging a campaign of harassment against two opposition candidates in the coming presidential elections.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the final arbiter of inter-American law, this year admitted several complaints against Peru, including the Ivcher case. In July, the Fujimori government responded with a fit of pique, taking the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the court’s jurisdiction. In a July 14 editorial, The New York Times described the move as “the international equivalent of taking your marbles and going home.”

Meanwhile, the government-orchestrated defamation campaign against the independent press, which began in March 1998, continued throughout 1999. Two tabloids were launched whose titles played derisively on the name of the opposition daily La República: Repúdica and Repudio. The papers ran mostly scurrilous articles about La República‘s publisher, Gustavo Mohme Llona, an opposition member of Congress. The title of another defamatory tabloid, La Gran Repútica del Sur, parodied the Puno-based newspaper La Gran República del Sur. The fortnightly Sólido Norte, which appeared in the northern departments of La Libertad and Lambayeque toward the end of the year, not only attacked journalists and members of the opposition but also praised the work of government officials in both regions.

Peruvian reporters revealed that Héctor Ricardo Faisal, director of a defamatory, Miami-based Web site called APRODEV, had formerly served as a second lieutenant in the Argentine army, was subject to an international arrest warrant issued by the government of Argentina, and had close ties with the Peruvian intelligence services. But a Peruvian court quickly dismissed a defamation case filed against Faisal on the grounds that the articles on his site were reprints of piece that had already appeared in local tabloids.

Ever since the Lima-based Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad instigated the case against Faisal, its e-mail system has been regularly sabotaged. The press freedom group’s director, Jorge Salazar Cussiánovich, received a telephoned death threat.

Over the next few months, new evidence emerged that the government had planted the defamatory stories in the tabloids. Several former editors and reporters with a Lima-based tabloid called El Chato, which regularly attacked journalists, revealed that many of the paper’s front-page stories had been submitted by a Fujimori publicist. On October 27, Hugo Borjas, one of the journalists who went public with this information, was briefly kidnapped by unidentified individuals.

In a country where some 98 percent of the population watches television, control of the airwaves is crucial to Fujimori’s reelection strategy. In the past two years, the government has succeeded in forcing all critical news programming off the air. Local sources describe Fujimori’s presence on television as “overwhelming,” and recent attempts to defy the president on television have proved costly. After Genaro Delgado Parker, a businessman and former president of Peru’s Asociación de Radio y Televisión, denounced the government’s control over Peruvian television, a national and international warrant was issued for his arrest because he missed a court appearance.

March 15

Meza, a free-lance journalist who reports for Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 in Coishco, in northern Peru, informed the local press freedom organization Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad that Capt. Wilmer Vásquez Delgado of the Peruvian National Police had harassed and threatened him. Vásquez also filed a lawsuit against the journalist.

In March, Meza began working on a report about Vásquez for the station’s well-known investigative program “Diálogo.” The report linked Vásquez to a criminal gang and drew attention to other irregularities in his conduct as a police officer. In mid-March, Meza started receiving anonymous telephone threats that were traced to the police station where Vásquez works. One typical threat was, “You will die like a bum.”

Vásquez used Meza’s free-lance status against him by informing the deputy mayor of Coishco that Meza was not an employee of the station. On June 15, Meza was charged with extortion and false representation. The charges were based on assertions that Meza falsely represented himself as a correspondent for Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2, a charge that Meza denies.

The prosecutor submitted business cards carrying Meza’s name and telephone number with the logo of the television station as evidence. Meza denied having given out such business cards or ever having had them made.

On July 15, Vásquez sued Meza for defamation, a criminal offense in Peru that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. Vásquez has also threatened Meza’s sources. Police officers from the Coishco precinct have confirmed that Vásquez wishes to see Meza imprisoned or eliminated before the results of his investigation can be made public.

All charges against Meza were pending at year’s end.

March 18

At 1 a.m. on March 18, two hooded assailants attacked José Luis Linarez Altamirano, director of the romantic program “Punto Corazón” on Radio Marañón in the northeastern city of Jaén, at his home in a lightly populated area some distance from Jaén. The assailants shot him in the hand, the small intestine, and the left kidney.

According to the victim’s girlfriend, Graciela Romero Pérez, who witnessed the incident, the attackers fled the scene of the crime but then returned to steal a small black-and-white TV set and a tape recorder. Romero believes this was a ruse meant to suggest robbery as a motive. It is significant, in this connection, that the attackers left behind an entertainment system worth more than four times the value of the items stolen.

Since the end of 1998, journalists at Radio Marañón have been subjected to threats, break-ins, and violent attacks in response to programming that has criticized official corruption, environmental degradation, and human-rights violations.

According to Hitalo Salazar Castillo, the station’s programming director, the first phone calls were insulting but not menacing and therefore not considered a serious cause for concern. By February of 1999, however, the calls had taken on a more threatening tone. One journalist, Anny Mejía Cieza, who directs the youth-oriented program “En Collera,” received an anonymous call from someone who claimed to know the names of her husband and son and the location of their home.

Another reporter, Roxana Robles Ramos, who hosts “La Mañana es Aquí,” a morning program for peasant women, received six threatening phone calls in a single day. The station employees began to take precautions: entering and leaving in pairs, not giving out home addresses, and not arriving home late.

On March 20, the house of reporter Homero Marín Salazar was burglarized. One day later, reporter Olinda Mori Díaz had her home broken into; a bicycle and some clothing were stolen. In both cases, the thieves left behind items of much greater value than what they stole.

That same day, March 21, the station received a call from an individual who claimed to be related to programming director Salazar. The caller requested Salazar’s home telephone number. Salazar, who is from Trujillo, does not have relatives in Jaén.

A week later, the house of producer Pedro Delgado Mendoza was also robbed. The circumstances were similar to previous robberies, except that this time the thieves left a note containing a death threat. And in July, the station began receiving threatening phone calls again after a lull of several months. Sometimes the callers insulted and threatened station staff. On other occasions, they simply remained silent on the line.

Linarez had noticed armed individuals outside his residence who ran away when approached. On July 10, Linarez recognized one of the armed individuals as one of the attackers who had shot him four months earlier. On other occasions, orange-and-black vehicles bearing the logo of the presidential office have passed by his home very late at night. These vehicles are known to be associated with the Peruvian military.

Local journalists see these attacks as part of a concerted effort to control the independent press and stifle public opposition to government policies. Local human-rights organizations pressured Minister of the Interior José Villanueva Ruesta to investigate the attacks and provide the journalists with protection, but the staff of Radio Marañón received no guarantee that they would be allowed to continue their work in safety.

May 14
Jaime Antonio Angulo Quesquén, Radio Stereo Laser Plus THREATENED, HARASSED

Angulo, the owner of Radio Stereo Laser Plus, in Pacasmayo Province, informed the Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad, a local press freedom organization, that he had been repeatedly threatened by state official Carlos Vera Cépeda and businessman Eduardo Burgos Delgado.

In his investigative program “Impacto Noticioso,” Angulo had reported on a series of irregularities committed by Vera and Burgos, administrator and promoter, respectively, of the state-owned Regional Refrigerated Fisheries. Both were subsequently fired from their positions.

On May 14, Vera and Burgos broke into Angulo’s house and verbally insulted him in front of his wife and young children. From that night on, Vera and Burgos threatened to kill Angulo each time they met him on the street.

On the evening of June 7, unidentified individuals threw rocks at the radio station. The next evening, an anonymous caller warned the station operator that Angulo should keep an eye on his children.

June 18
Julio Genaro Sotelo Casanova, Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Sotelo, former general manager of the television station Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2, was arrested and convicted of fraud and illegal alteration of corporate documents.

The Court of Tax and Customs Crimes, headed by interim judge Nicolás Trujillo López, ruled that Sotelo was guilty of having illegally transferred shares of Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 from Baruch Ivcher, the majority shareholder, to his four daughters in 1997.

In July 1997, 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. At year’s end, Ivcher was in exile, living in the United States and Israel.

The charges against Sotelo were filed by Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2’s former minority shareholders, the brothers Mendel and Samuel Winter, who currently exercise majority control over the station.

On April 16, the Court of Tax and Customs Crimes sentenced Sotelo to four years of probation. Sotelo did not attend this session, but he did submit a medical certificate attesting that he was absent because of health problems. The court acknowledged Sotelo’s medical condition. But on June 18, it cited his absence as one of the reasons for changing his sentence from probation to an unconditional prison term.

According to CPJ’s information, it has been established that Ivcher’s daughters have been legitimate shareholders in Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2 since 1994. In a June 24 letter to President Alberto K. Fujimori, CPJ condemned Sotelo’s arrest and conviction, which it described as further evidence of a systematic campaign against Peru’s independent press.

Sotelo began serving his sentence in San Jorge Prison. On June 29, he was transferred to San Borja Hospital for health reasons. On July 7, the Appeals Court of Tax and Customs Crimes, headed by Judge Raúl Lorenzi Goycochea, reversed the sentence to four years of probation. Sotelo was ordered to report to the court every month. He was not allowed to change his residence or leave the country without judicial authorization.

June 27
Marco Antonio Cossío Vega, Radio Mix ATTACKED

At about 1 a.m. on June 27, six individuals attacked Cossío, director of “La Voz del Pueblo,” a program broadcast on Radio Mix from the city of Paramonga, just north of Lima. The assailants beat Cossío and then fled, leaving him with a broken leg. Cossío was able to identify only one of his attackers, a local criminal who goes by the alias piojo (“louse”) and had escaped from jail two months earlier.

While preliminary police reports suggested that the attack was a common crime, none of Cossío’s personal belongings were taken. According to local sources, the attack may well have been intended to silence Cossío’s critical coverage of Paramonga politicians. Shortly before the attack, Cossío had broadcast a segment about alleged official misconduct under the current mayor of Paramonga, Domingo Ortega Narváez. The allegations included abuses committed by his personal security guards.

At the end of May, Cossío and the station’s owner, Rafael Huertas, received an anonymous telephone threat warning them to take “La Voz del Pueblo” off the air. Flyers attacking the journalists’ reputation and character then started circulating in the area.

On July 2, local trade unions held a demonstration to protest ongoing abuses of press freedom in Paramonga. The demonstrators demanded that authorities investigate the Cossío case and punish those found responsible.

July 12

Journalists from Reporte, a bimonthly magazine that circulates in the southern city of Puno, were subjected to telephoned threats and other harassment because of an article in the magazine about alleged financial irregularities at the National University of the Altiplano (UNA).

The article, entitled “We Defend the University, Stop the Savagery,” appeared in the July 1Ð15 edition of Reporte. Subsequently, UNA’s administrative vice chancellor, Edgardo Pineda Quispe, sent a letter to the magazine’s office asking that the author of the article be identified so that the vice chancellor could “take measures.”

Reporte staffers were also subjected to harassment and intimidation by unknown individuals who began loitering outside the magazine’s headquarters around July 12, when Pineda Quispe’s letter arrived. The magazine also received anonymous telephone threats.

After the threats began, Reporte received support and solidarity from press unions in Puno. The threats stopped around the end of August.

September 3
Asociación Prensa Libre LEGAL ACTION
Guillermo Gonzales Arica, Caretas LEGAL ACTION

The Peruvian government accused the independent journalists’ group Asociación Prensa Libre of forging documents to substantiate its claim that the Peruvian National Intelligence Service (SIN) and Military Intelligence Service (SIE) were waging a campaign of harassment against two opposition candidates in the presidential elections. One of Prensa Libre’s members, Guillermo Gonzales Arica, was singled out arbitrarily for official harassment in connection with this accusation.

Prensa Libre was created in an effort to provide independent broadcast news in a country where critical TV journalism has been crushed. On August 25, Prensa Libre held a press conference to reveal the existence of “Operational Plan Politicians,” an official scheme for spying on presidential candidates Alberto Andrade Carmona and Luis Castañeda Lossio and their respective political organizations. During the same press conference, Prensa Libre showed a video of Andrade and Castañeda being followed and harassed by suspected SIN and SIE agents.

Prensa Libre filed a formal complaint with the National Elections Jury (JNE) about these alleged irregularities. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of Military Justice (CSJM) investigated Prensa Libre’s allegations. But the CSJM did not examine Prensa Libre’s documentary and video evidence. Instead, it relied on second-hand accounts in the Peruvian press. Based on this sketchy “evidence,” the CSJM concluded that Prensa Libre had falsified documents.

On September 3, the CSJM filed its own complaint with the JNE, accusing Prensa Libre of obstruction of justice and “crimes against the public faith.” The JNE referred both complaints to the Public Ministry, which authorized the CSJM case to proceed, while reportedly not taking any action regarding Prensa Libre’s complaint. In response to the legal proceedings initiated by the CJSM, Prensa Libre filed a writ for the protection of its constitutional rights, including freedom of expression. The Public Law Court threw out the appeal.

While all members of Prensa Libre were accused of having falsified documents, authorities singled out only one member for investigation. On November 19, Gonzales Arica, a reporter with the weekly Caretas, received a summons to appear three days later at the Police Division of the Public Ministry. On November 22, at Prensa Libre’s request, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Peruvian government to guarantee Gonzales Arica’s right to liberty, physical integrity, freedom of expression, and due process. It also asked the government to explain what it was doing to protect Gonzales Arica’s rights.

Local journalists suspect that Gonzales Arica may have been targeted because of his hard-hitting reports in Caretas and his testimony in a separate case against Peru’s intelligence services, currently pending before the IACHR.

In a December 16 protest letter to President Alberto K. Fujimori, CPJ argued that according to all available evidence, Prensa Libre had merely exercised its constitutional rights to free expression, to the extent still possible in Peru. It urged the president to guarantee the right of Gonzales Arica and all other Prensa Libre journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal, as called for by the American Convention on Human Rights, which Peru ratified in 1978.

On January 6, 2000, the IACHR notified Prensa Libre that it had received a reply from the Peruvian government, stating that Gonzales Arica was in no danger of being detained.

September 3
Kela León, Caretas HARASSED
Paul Vallejos, Caretas HARASSED

Reporter León and photographer Vallejos of the weekly magazine Caretas were assaulted during a public rally in support of Manuel Garrido Castro, the former mayor of the district of Los Organos, in the northern department of Piura.

The Lima-based journalists had traveled to Organos on assignment. When they entered the arena where the rally was being held, individuals jumped on Vallejos, snatched his camera and credentials, and threw him out. When León asked local authorities for help, they replied that they could not intervene because the rally was private. Another individual then confiscated her credentials and ejected her from the arena as well.

September 20
Reynaldo Benavides Ramos, Radio Luren THREATENED, LEGAL ACTION

Three unknown individuals accosted and threatened Benavides, director of Radio Luren in the coastal city of Ica, as he was leaving the station to return home. The assailants pointed a gun at the journalist’s head and threatened to kill him if he continued broadcasting reports about José Luis Huasasquiche, the owner of a local computer company.

That same day, on his program “La Hora Clave,” Benavides had reported new evidence linking Huasasquiche to a brutal January 27 attack on another journalist, Víctor Raúl Arroyo Huamán (better known by his pseudonym Paul Mayor) of Radio Exito. The attack on Arroyo Huamán had previously been attributed to common delinquents.

Benavides was threatened just minutes after broadcasting this report. He told the local press freedom organization Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad that Huasasquiche had filed a slander and defamation suit against him on August 27. The suit was still pending at year’s end.

September 28
Juan Sausa Seclén, La República, Radio Marañón THREATENED
La República CENSORED

Seclén, a correspondent for the national daily La República and a reporter with the radio station Radio Marañón in the northeastern town of Jaén, received death threats that drove him into hiding for three weeks.

The threats came immediately after La República published an article by Seclén accusing Hugo Coral Goycochea, a former member of the paramilitary group “Colina,” of working as a bodyguard for the mayor of Jaén under an assumed name.

Colina was the paramilitary group responsible for the 1992 kidnapping and murder of nine students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University in Lima. Their bodies were later found burned and buried. The group was supposed to have disbanded in 1995, when its members were first prosecuted. Goycochea himself was never charged, and the group was granted amnesty in 1996.

Seclén’s article appeared in the September 28 edition of La República, which hit the newsstands at 8 a.m. Government agents had confiscated all unsold copies by 10:30 a.m. The National Intelligence Service (SIN) is believed to have conducted this operation.

Subsequently, Seclén received anonymous death threats on his cellular phone, at his home, and at the Radio Marañón office. After spending some three weeks in hiding, he went back to work. Police offered Seclén 24-hour protection, but he declined it, fearing it would interfere with his ability to work as a journalist.

Jaén police are currently investigating the case, although local sources are skeptical that the investigation will yield positive results.

November 10
Angel Durán León, Radio Quassar ATTACKED

A single masked individual shot Durán, a journalist with Radio Quassar in Huaraz, while he was en route to an interview with a local official. When the journalist and his driver stepped out of the car to remove some stones from the road, a masked individual jumped out and shot Durán in the thigh.

Although the assailant is still at large, Durán suspects the attack was ordered by Fredy Moreno Neglia, former vice minister in President Alberto K. Fujimori’s government. The incident is only the latest in a series of attacks and threats against Durán that began in 1995, when the journalist started airing investigative reports about Moreno’s alleged corruption, including embezzlement of government funds.

Moreno has held several prominent positions as Fujimori’s representative in the Ancash region. He is also the owner of a daily newspaper in Huaraz, Prensa Regional; a radio station, Radio Ancash; and a local Huaraz television station, Canal 2 on AMR Televisión.

Since 1995, Durán has endured attacks, threats, bribery attempts, and some 15 different legal cases filed against him by Moreno (he has been cleared of the charges in 14 of these cases).

On February 18, 1998, Durán was kidnapped and beaten by individuals whom he suspected of working for Moreno. The journalist spent two days recovering in a hospital in Ancash. Media outlets under Moreno’s control also subjected Durán to an ongoing defamation campaign. Yet he continued to pursue his investigations.

On September 16, 1999, Durán staged a sit-in outside the Congress building in Lima. He threatened to go on a hunger strike if his evidence about Moreno’s personal corruption and vendetta against him were not heard. Only six days earlier, a member of the Moreno family had called Durán, offering to pay him US$6,000 if he would refrain from appealing to Congress.

After five hours, the legislature agreed to give Durán a hearing, where he received assurances that his allegations would be investigated. Subsequently, Moreno filed a contempt suit against Durán. On October 18, an Ancash court sentenced Durán to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of approximately US$1,450. In an interview with CPJ, Durán said he planned to continue investigating Moreno as soon as his leg healed.

In early December, facing mounting public scrutiny as a result of Radio Quassar’s investigative work, Moreno resigned his position as vice minister. However, he continued to be affiliated with Fujimori’s government.

December 9
Radio Libertad HARASSED

Ministry of Transportation and Communications official Waldimar Huamaní Alfaro ordered the closure of Radio Libertad, an independent radio station located in the city of Trujillo, claiming that it was operating without a proper license. The action appeared to be part of a general government campaign to stifle critical radio stations.

Carlos Burmester Landauro, director of Radio Libertad’s program “La Voz de la Calle,” and a member of the family that owns the station, told CPJ that he showed Huamaní the radio’s operating licenses dating back to November 5, 1951, as well as receipts for license renewal fees dating back 10 years.

While Huamaní was visiting the station, Burmester also had him telephone the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in Lima, where an official confirmed that the radio station’s papers were in order.

Nonetheless, Huamaní ordered the station to stop broadcasting immediately and disconnect its equipment. He threatened civil, criminal, and administrative sanctions if the station did not shut down.

That same evening, 28 opposition members of Congress passed a motion asking Transportation and Communications Minister Alberto Pandolfi to explain the government’s harassment of Radio Libertad. The next day, the director-general of telecommunications of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced that Radio Libertad could ignore the closure order.

At year’s end, Radio Libertad continued to operate as an independent radio station.

December 21
Liberación HARASSED

Judicial police attempted to prevent the distribution of the recently launched daily Liberación. The paper’s director is César Hildebrandt, known as a strong critic of President Alberto K. Fujimori’s 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. The officers used this equipment to break down the main door of the building. The owner of the building, Abraham Hochman Bilbao, and staff members prevented the officers from seizing any company assets. The siege was lifted after an hour and a half.

While the operation was ostensibly aimed at seizing Hochman’s assets in order to cover an outstanding debt, Hochman merely rents office space to printing companies and does not own any of their assets. Moreover, the debt case against Hochman had been dormant for three years. 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, advisor to Fujimori and chief of the Peruvian intelligence services.