Peruvian court tosses convictions in journalist’s murder

New York, July 28, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the Peruvian Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the murder convictions of three men, one a local mayor, in the 2004 slaying of journalist Antonio de la Torre Echeandía. The court, in a July 21 decision, freed the three defendants without immediate explanation. CPJ called on the court to immediately make public the basis for its ruling.

De la Torre, host of “El Equipo de la Noticia” on Radio Órbita was stabbed to death on February 14, 2004, in the city of Yungay in Ancash province. De la Torre was widely known as a harsh critic of Yungay Mayor Amaro León León. Three men, including León, were convicted in Ancash Superior Court in December 2005 and were each sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The Supreme Court in Lima cited lack of evidence in overturning the convictions but did not elaborate, according to local press reports. The court ordered the immediate release of defendants Pedro Ángeles Figueroa, Antonio Torres Camones, and León from prison in Huaraz, the capital of Ancash. León reassumed his post as Yungay’s mayor the next day, de la Torre’s wife, Dina Ramírez, told CPJ. Ramírez said authorities have given her no explanation for the court’s decision.

The court’s full decision could take one of two forms, according to lawyers at the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, a regional press freedom group. The court could issue a verdict of not guilty—in which case a retrial would be very unlikely—or it could issue an annulment based on procedural violations. An annulment could lead to a retrial. The nature of the decision, however, won’t be known until the court makes public its findings.

“We are alarmed by the Supreme Court’s decision to release—without explanation—three individuals who were tried and convicted in the murder of Antonio de la Torre,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The court’s failure to provide a public explanation for its actions undermines the transparency of the legal process.”

De la Torre had worked as León’s campaign chief in 2002 and later as his public relations officer. He said he resigned after he discovered alleged instances of corruption.

Torre and Ángeles were detained a few days after the murder. In March 2004, an Ancash court ordered León and his daughter, Emma León, detained on charges of masterminding the murder in an attempt to silence the journalist. León was jailed in Huaraz, but his daughter and another suspect, accused gunman Moisés David Julca, went into hiding.