CPJ welcomes convictions in murder of radio journalist

New York, December 16, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the conviction by a Peruvian court of three men in the murder of radio journalist Antonio de la Torre Echeandía in Yungay, northern Áncash Region.

On December 15, the Áncash Superior Court of Justice found former Yungay Mayor Amaro León guilty of masterminding the February 2004 stabbing death and sentenced him to 17 years in prison, according to the Lima-based press freedom organization Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) and local news reports. De la Torre Echeandía, 43, was a harsh critic of León, whom he accused of nepotism and corruption.

The court handed down 17-year jail terms to two other defendants charged with acting as accomplices. Prosecutors had requested 20-year jail terms for all the defendants. León’s lawyers appealed the sentence.

All three defendants were ordered to pay civil damages of 20,000 Peruvian soles (US$6,000) to the journalist’s family. A fourth defendant was cleared of all charges after collaborating with the prosecution. The court postponed the sentencing of two other people charged in the case, León’s daughter and a hired assassin, who are fugitives.

“While we welcome the convictions two other defendants are still at large,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Peruvian authorities to ensure that all those charged with the journalist’s murder are brought to justice.”

De la Torre Echeandía’s wife, Dina Ramírez, said she received death threats from León’s brother-in-law, Juan Martínez Julca, while she was in the court for the verdict, the Lima-based daily La República reported. “You’ve come to celebrate, now I’m going to kill you,” she quoted him as saying, according to La República. Ramírez has been threatened before by the relatives of the defendants, according to IPYS.

De la Torre, host of “El Equipo de la Noticia” (The News Team) on Radio Órbita was stabbed on February 14, 2004, after leaving a party. According to local news reports, on the way to the hospital de la Torre identified one of his attackers as “El Negro,” a nickname for Hipólito Casiano Vega, a driver for the Yungay mayor’s office. Police subsequently arrested Vega and two other municipality workers, Antonio Torre Camones and Pedro Ángeles Figueroa, as alleged accomplices in the murder.

De la Torre was a harsh critic of Yungay Mayor León, whom he accused of misconduct. In 2002, de la Torre had worked as a campaign chief for León, the Lima-based daily La República reported. After León won the elections, he appointed de la Torre head of the municipality’s public relations office. The two parted ways three months into León’s tenure as mayor, when de la Torre resigned after discovering several instances of alleged corruption, according to La República. De la Torre’s family blamed León for the murder, but León rejected any involvement in the crime.

In March 2004, at the request of the Yungay Public Prosecutor’s Office, an Áncash court ordered León and his daughter, Emma León, detained on charges of masterminding de la Torre’s murder in an attempt to silence the journalist. Mayor León was jailed at a prison in Huaraz, the capital of Áncash region. Facing arrest warrants, León’s daughter and Moisés David Julca, the alleged hired assassin, went into hiding.

Julio César Giraldo Ángeles, owner of Radio Órbita, said that de la Torre had been threatened and attacked several times. In October 2003, Giraldo said, unidentified individuals had hurled a homemade bomb at the journalist’s home in the middle of the night. The explosion did not cause major damage, and de la Torre was able to put out the fire. De la Torre had also received several anonymous threatening letters, Giraldo said.

In February 2005, a court in Yungay ruled there was sufficient evidence to indict León and the other five suspects for de la Torre’s murder. Last May, the Áncash Superior Court of Justice began the trial of León and the five other defendants.