Attacks on the Press 2002: Peru

The Peruvian press continues to recover from the authoritarian and corrupt rule of Alberto K. Fujimori, who was Peru’s president from 1990 until 2000, when a scandal forced him to resign and flee the country. During the last years of his regime, Fujimori managed to control much of the news agenda with the complicity of most broadcasting outlets. President Alejandro Toledo, whose 2001 election victory consolidated democracy and the rule of law in Peru, largely respects the media’s work.

The government and the judiciary continue to investigate television executives and owners who had placed their media outlets at the service of Fujimori and his intelligence adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos. Using an array of tactics–million-dollar bribes, extortion, tax incentives, and manipulation of government advertising–Fujimori and Montesinos, along with compliant judges, dictated media coverage to secure Fujimori a third presidential term, which was widely considered unconstitutional, in April 2000. At the end of 2002, the cases of several television owners who had been charged in 2001 with embezzlement, influence peddling, and conspiracy to commit crimes were combined into one case and assigned to an anti-corruption judge. During 2002, these discredited media owners linked to Fujimori and Montesinos tried to use their outlets to denounce an alleged government campaign to muzzle journalists critical of Toledo.

A separate judicial investigation of several tabloid owners charged with embezzlement proceeded slowly in 2002. These businessmen had collaborated with the Fujimori regime to smear opposition politicians and independent journalists, especially from the dailies El Comercio, La República, and Liberación. Pro-Fujimori tabloids, known as the prensa chicha, reveled in publishing false allegations about those opposed to Fujimori. In 2001, a public prosecutor found that sufficient evidence exists that Fujimori’s administration directly bankrolled the tabloids. Some of the owners remained under house arrest throughout 2002 while they were being investigated.

Although the press freedom climate has improved significantly in Peru, the Toledo administration came under fire in 2002 for showing intolerance to criticism and for demanding more favorable press coverage. Similarly, supporters of Toledo’s Perú Posible party were implicated in several verbal and physical attacks against journalists.

In June, Congress passed the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 3, 2003. Though the media owners’ group Consejo de la Prensa Peruana (Council of the Peruvian Press) and Peru’s Ombudsman Office considered the legislation a step forward, they claimed that the exceptions under which access to public information may be denied–particularly those related to national security–are too broad and vague, giving the executive branch too much power to determine which information can remain secret on national security grounds. In September, representatives from the Ombudsman Office challenged the law in Peru’s Constitutional Court, which had not ruled on the matter by year’s end.

Journalist Javier Tuanama Valera, who was convicted during the Fujimori regime on charges of collaborating with terrorists, was granted a presidential pardon and was released from jail in November. After reviewing Tuanama’s case, a government pardoning commission determined that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. Juan de Mata Jara Berrospi, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence, is now the only journalist still in jail on charges of collaborating with terrorists.

Also in November, Peruvian authorities captured an alleged member of the Shining Path Maoist guerrilla movement who they believe participated in the 1989 kidnapping and murder of Tampa Tribune reporter Todd Carper Smith. According to local reports, drug traffickers mistook Smith for a U.S. drug enforcement agent and ordered the Shining Path to abduct and execute him. Smith was in Peru on a working vacation to report on the guerrillas.

In November, the alleged head of the paramilitary death squad Grupo Colina, retired army major Santiago Martín Rivas, was captured and interrogated in connection with the 1992 kidnapping and murder of journalist Pedro Yauri Bustamante, director of the “Punto Final” news program on Radio Universal. Grupo Colina, which has been linked to several massacres and scores of other human rights abuses under the Fujimori regime, is allegedly behind Yauri’s killing. The journalist’s program frequently denounced abuses committed by the military.

March 26

Mabel Cáceres Calderón, El Búho

Cáceres, editor of the biweekly publication El Búho, which is based in the southern city of Arequipa, received death threats that appeared to be related to El Búho‘s stories on corruption and nepotism at a local university.

At around 11:30 a.m., Cáceres arrived at the engineering sciences library of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín (UNSA), where she works in the afternoon, and was given a package that had arrived for her in the mail. Noticing that the package lacked a return address, she called her family, who in turn called the police. Police bomb disposal experts opened the box and found a bull’s testicles with a threatening note, according to a report by the Lima-based press freedom organization Instituto Prensa y Sociedad. Žhat same afternoon, Cáceres filed an official complaint with the Arequipa Police Department, which has opened an investigation into the case.

In a series of articles published in November and December 2001, El Búho claimed that certain university employees had received payments for unspecified services and complained that it was impossible to know the salary of UNSA’s rector, Rolando Cornejo Cuervo. In late November 2001, the university television station, TV UNSA, broadcast a two-hour program in which Cáceres was referred to as a “rat” that needed to be “exterminated,” the journalist told CPJ. At around the same time, a flyer containing insulting references to the journalist’s private life began circulating throughout the university.

‘áceres was first threatened on January 29, when she received an envelope with an anonymous note that read, “We know it’s you.” Enclosed in the envelope were clippings of a January 27 article in the national daily OJO announcing that, at the request of an Arequipa congressman, the General Comptroller’s Office would investigate allegations of corruption at UNSA.

In December 2001, the rector of UNSA filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Cáceres. After the lawsuit was dismissed in mid-February 2002, Cornejo filed an appeal, which the Supreme Court of Justice is currently considering. The rector filed two other criminal defamation lawsuits, but they were dismissed for lack of evidence.

The harassment of Cáceres stopped after the Public Prosecutor’s Office began investigating the rector in connection with the threats, the journalist told CPJ. At year’s end, a judge was considering whether to recommend the rector’s prosecution. Cáceres, meanwhile, relaunched El Búho in October.

October 24

Juan Carlos Masías, Frecuencia Latina
Elizabeth Rubianes, América TV
Jorge Castañeda, América TV

Juan Carlos Sánchez, Radio Comas

Police attacked several journalists who were trying to cover an event in front of the Congress building in Peru’s capital, Lima.

At around noon, former government official Mauricio Diez Canseco, accompanied by 150 supporters, arrived at the Congress building determined to enter the facility and find congressman Jorge del Castillo, whom Diez had challenged to a fistfight. As Diez was giving statements to the press, the police, who had orders to prevent the crowd from entering the Congress building, charged the protesters and journalists with water cannons and tear gas grenades.

Several minutes later, as the journalists sought to obtain comments from a police commander about the use of water cannons and tear gas against them, the police assaulted them. Sánchez, a reporter for “La Grúa Radial” program, broadcast by Lima-based station Radio Comas, was hit in the head with a stick by two police officers, leaving his face and head bloodied. Masías, a cameraman with television station Frecuencia Latina, was roughed up and hit in the head with a stick by an officer. Masías suffered a contusion and required five stitches. Rubianes, a reporter for television station América TV, and her cameraman, Castañeda, were slightly injured after a tear gas grenade thrown by police exploded next to them.

To protest the police assault, journalists went to the entrance of the Congress building and placed their microphones, tape recorders, cameras, and press credentials on the floor. On October 28, Sánchez said he had received anonymous phone threats on his cell phone, apparently in retaliation for statements he had made that he would file a complaint against the Ministry of the Interior and the police because of the attacks.

In an October 30 report, the Ministry of the Interior claimed that Sánchez had thrown a “sharp object” at police officers, and that Masías was beaten after he pushed through a police cordon to interview a police commander. The report, however, conceded that the police response was unnecessary and disproportionate. The Lima-based press freedom organization Instituto Prensa Y Sociedad said that some journalists may have reacted violently, but only after the police attacked them. The journalists filed a complaint with the police, who were still investigating the case at year’s end.