Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Peru

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Peru, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566ebc.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Attacks and threats against journalists increased considerably in 2004, reversing a decline that had followed Alejandro Toledo's accession to the presidency in 2001. And while Peruvian journalists generally work freely, several have been prosecuted on criminal defamation charges.

The embattled Toledo, a highly unpopular leader whose term ends in July 2006, has faced several political crises, and his Cabinet has been reshuffled several times. Several of his ministers have resigned over allegations of influence peddling, nepotism, and malfeasance. Alleged wrongdoing and ethical violations by Toledo's relatives and government officials have supplied the media with an endless stream of scandals.

The government has been criticized for its perceived intolerance and demands for more favorable press coverage. In many cases, government officials have responded to reports of corruption with threats of criminal defamation lawsuits and judicial investigations. In October, immediately after the TV news program "Cuarto Poder" (Fourth Estate) aired a story linking Toledo to the forgery of thousands of signatures needed to register his political party for the 2000 elections, the president phoned program host Carlos Espá on air, called him a "coward," and labeled his program "gutter journalism." A few days later, Espá and two other news editors at the privately owned América Televisión, which broadcasts "Cuarto Poder," resigned, claiming that the station's owners had asked them, at Toledo's request, to offer him a public apology. They also accused the government of pressuring "Cuarto Poder" to alter its news coverage. Both the government and the station's owners denied the allegation. Many journalists and editorial pages criticized both Toledo's outburst and the "Cuarto Poder" report, which was seen as flawed because it was poorly edited, presented out of context, and did not prove its accusations.

Toledo and other government officials blamed the many scandals and allegations of impropriety that have besieged their administration on a "mafia" led by former President Alberto Fujimori and his former intelligence adviser and right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos.

Toledo's complaints are not completely unfounded. During Fujimori's rule, the government bribed several media outlets for favorable coverage, which has eroded the public's confidence in the press. And some news organizations, directly or indirectly, continue to support the authoritarian and corrupt Fujimori, who ran Peru for a decade until he fled to Japan in 2000. These media often published harsh, gratuitous attacks against Toledo in 2004. From his prison cell at a naval base near Lima, Montesinos is said to help dictate the news coverage of pro-Fujimori papers.

To ensure pro-Fujimori coverage while he was in power, some media owners were extorted as well as enticed with million-dollar bribes, tax incentives, and government advertising. In June 2004, the brothers Samuel and Mendel Winter, part-owners of the TV channel Frecuencia Latina, were convicted in connection with the media bribery scandal on charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to commit crimes. Three other media owners who fled the country in 2001 were being tried in absentia in the same case. Several tabloid owners charged with embezzlement in 2001 were also on trial. In 2000, all of these media owners had agreed to ensure that their outlets supported Fujimori's campaign for a third presidential term, which was widely considered unconstitutional.

In April, businessman Fernando Zevallos brought a criminal defamation lawsuit against the owners of the Lima daily El Comercio (The Commerce) and the paper's investigative journalists who wrote articles linking Zevallos – founder, former owner, and corporate adviser to the Lima-based AeroContinente airlines – to drug traffickers. Zevallos also requested US$100 million in damages in a parallel civil lawsuit against the newspaper.

The international and Peruvian media have long linked Zevallos to drug trafficking and money laundering. In 2001, he faced charges in Peru for complicity with drug traffickers, but he was acquitted in 2002 for lack of evidence. At year's end, he was on trial on charges of drug trafficking. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered a retrial because judges had not considered all the relevant evidence during the first trial. Early in 2004, U.S. immigration authorities banned Zevallos from re-entering the United States, where he has a home in Miami, Fla. In June, the Bush administration identified Zevallos as a "significant foreign narcotics trafficker," meaning that U.S. businesses and individuals are prohibited from conducting business with him or his interests. However, U.S. officials have not sought his extradition. In November, the Treasury Department added AeroContinente's successor company, Nuevo Continente, to a list of entities suspected of links to drug trafficking.

The Associated Press, citing a recently uncovered transcript of the secret trial of an alleged member of the Shining Path Maoist guerrilla movement who was convicted in 1993 for the 1989 murder of Tampa Tribune reporter Todd Carper Smith, reported in December that a police intelligence report identified Zevallos as one of the masterminds behind Smith's killing. 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 write about the Maoist guerrillas.

Attacks and threats against journalists increased in 2004, particularly in Peru's interior. After more than a decade in which no journalists were killed in the country for their work, Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, a radio host in the city of Yungay in the northern region of Ancash, was murdered in February. He was a harsh critic of former friend and Yungay Mayor Amaro León, whom he accused of nepotism and corruption. In March, a court ordered León and his daughter detained on charges of masterminding de la Torre's murder with the intent to silence the journalist.

In April, an unidentified gunman killed Alberto Rivera Fernández, the host of a radio show and a political activist in the city of Pucallpa in eastern Ucayali Region. He also served as president of a local journalists association and owned a glass store. A former politician, Rivera was an outspoken and controversial commentator known for his sharp criticism of local and regional authorities. Four suspects in his murder remained jailed at year's end and had not been formally charged. Local authorities had not determined the motives behind his murder. CPJ is investigating whether Rivera's killing was related to his journalistic work.


2004 Documented Cases – Peru

FEBRUARY 14, 2004
Posted: April 6, 2004

Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, "El equipo de la noticia"
KILLED – CONFIRMED

De la Torre, host of "El equipo de la noticia" (The News Team) on Radio Órbita in the city of Yungay, in the northern department of Ancash, was murdered after leaving a party in the evening.

Two unidentified men stabbed the 43-year old journalist while he was heading home. According to local news reports that quote his wife and son, before dying on the way to the hospital, de la Torre identified one of his killers as "El Negro," a nickname for Hipólito Casiano Vega Jara, who worked as a driver for Yungay mayor's office. The police have arrested Vega. Antonio Torres, who was a friend of de la Torre's and allegedly led the journalist to the scene of his murder, was also arrested.

De la Torre was a harsh critic of his former friend, Yungay Mayor Amaro León, whom he accused of irregularities, nepotism, and corruption. 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, however, three months into León's tenure as mayor, when de la Torre resigned after discovering several instances of alleged corruption, according to La República.

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 explosive device 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, said Giraldo.

De la Torre's family has blamed Mayor León for the murder, but León has rejected any involvement in the crime.

On March 17, at the request of the Yungay Public Prosecutor's Office, an Ancash court ordered the detention of León and his daughter on charges of masterminding de la Torre's murder in an attempt to silence the journalist. According to Prosecutor Luz Marina Romero, two other municipal workers have been charged as accomplices in the crime. The four are jailed in a prison in Huaraz, the capital of Ancash Department. Another man charged in the murder remains a fugitive.

APRIL 21, 2004
Posted: April 23, 2004

Alberto Rivera Fernández, "Transparencia"
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

An unidentified gunman killed Rivera, a host of a radio show and a political activist, in Peru's eastern Ucayali Department. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is investigating whether the murder was related to Rivera's journalistic work.

Rivera, 54, hosted the morning show "Transparencia" (Transparency), broadcast daily on Frecuencia Oriental radio station, in the city of Pucallpa. In addition to being a journalist, he served as president of a local journalists' association and owned a glass store.

According to local press reports, Rivera was murdered at about 1:30 p.m. while he was at his office in the glass store. Two unidentified individuals entered the store and one of them pulled out a gun and shot Rivera twice in the chest and shoulder. There was no sign of robbery, said CPJ sources. Rivera died of his wounds before he could be taken to the hospital.

A former parliamentary deputy for the Frente Democrático (Democratic Front), Rivera was an outspoken and controversial radio commentator known for his sharp criticism of local and regional authorities. On January 13, Rivera participated in a demonstration organized by squatters against local authorities in the province of Coronel Portillo. The protesters damaged the local council building, and Mayor Luis Valdez Villacorta filed a lawsuit against some of them, including Rivera, for property damages, said CPJ sources. Rivera had accused the mayor of corruption in the sale of land occupied by squatters.

Local authorities have not made any comments on the possible motives of his murder.

APRIL 1, 2004
Posted: May 11, 2004

Miguel Ramírez Puelles, El Comercio
THREATENED, HARASSED

Ramírez, a journalist with the investigative unit of the Lima-based daily El Comercio, was harassed and threatened by unidentified individuals after El Comercio published several articles linking high-profile businessman Fernando Zevallos to drug traffickers.

In early April, when Ramírez traveled to the northern Ancash Department to look for information about Zevallos, unknown individuals broke into his apartment in Lima and took his computer's hard drive, his television set, and a microwave oven. Ramírez, however, believes it was not a robbery, since the burglars left his credit cards and other valuables behind. Ramírez filed a complaint with the police, who are investigating the incident.

In addition, unidentified individuals called Ramírez's parents several times in April demanding to know where their son was. During the same period, unidentified individuals repeatedly called Ramírez's cell phone. When the journalist answered, he heard a Mass or a prayer and background whispering, but no one spoke. The calls stopped after El Comercio made them public, Ramírez said. Because the calls came from unidentified numbers, the journalist believes that they were made from public phones.

Ramírez also told CPJ that his car was constantly followed during April and early May. Because of the threats and harassment, his newspaper is currently providing him and Fernando Ampuero del Bosque, head of El Comercio's investigative unit, with bodyguards.

The threats and the apparent burglary came after Ramírez wrote several articles for El Comercio in April linking Zevallos, the founder, former owner, and now corporate adviser of Lima-based AeroContinente airlines, to drug traffickers. Zevallos has rejected El Comercio's allegations, saying that the newspaper has been acting under pressure by stockholders from Lan Perú, owned by Lan Chile, AeroContinente's rival.

Zevallos, who built his airline company from nothing in the 1980s into Peru's largest airline today, has been linked by the Peruvian and international press to drug trafficking and money laundering. In January 2002, El Comercio published a leaked U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration document, whose authenticity was later confirmed, reporting that Zevallos was under investigation for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

In 2001, Zevallos faced charges of complicity with drug traffickers but was acquitted in 2002 for lack of evidence. He faces a new trial in June 2004 on charges that he used cocaine profits to help build his airline, according to The Associated Press. In January 2004, U.S. immigration authorities banned Zevallos from re-entering the United States, where he has a home in Miami, Florida.

Ramírez has been writing investigative reports on Zevallos since 1995.

APRIL 20, 2004
Posted: May 20, 2004

Rocío Vásquez Goicochea, Las Últimas Noticias
THREATENED, HARASSED

Vásquez, a journalist based in the port city of Chimbote, in northern Ancash Department, received several threats after reporting on illegal fishing practices. She worked for the newspaper Las Últimas Noticias, a Chimbote-based daily with a small circulation that is distributed free of charge, until April 5, when she resigned.

On April 20 at around 2:30 p.m., the journalist received a text message on her cell phone that read, "Don't forget that you only live once." The number from which the message came did not appear on her phone.

The most recent threat came on April 27. At around 3 p.m., a black car with tinted windows tried to run Vásquez over while she was crossing the street about a block from her home, the journalist told CPJ. At first, Vásquez thought it was a speeding car, but then, she said, a man rolled the car window down and told her, "You escaped from this, bitch, but the next time you won't escape."

Vásquez told CPJ that since 2002, she has been reporting on illegal fishing practices, including those involving a company owned by influential businessman Samuel Dyer, who is a close friend of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.

In addition, Vásquez obtained a video, which she made available to the television program "La Ventana Indiscreta" (The Rear Window), broadcast by Lima-based TV station Frecuencia Latina, that allegedly showed an unlicensed fishing vessel unloading fish at one of Dyer's factories. Dyer's company, Copeinca, has denied any involvement in illegal fishing practices, according to local news reports.

On May 3, Vásquez filed a complaint with the Chimbote authorities and with the local Ombudsman's Office.

APRIL 28, 2004
Posted: May 26, 2004

Alejandro Miró Quesada Garland, El Comercio
Alejandro Miró Quesada Cisneros, El Comercio
Fernando Ampuero del Bosque, El Comercio
Miguel Ramírez, El Comercio
El Comercio
LEGAL ACTION

Quesada Garland, general director of the Lima-based daily El Comercio; Quesada Cisneros, the paper's director; Ampuero, head of the paper's investigative unit; and Ramírez, a journalist with the paper's investigative unit, face criminal defamation charges brought by high-profile businessman Fernando Zevallos in connection with several articles the daily published linking him to drug traffickers.

On April 28, Zevallos filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Ampuero, claiming that Ampuero had defamed him in statements he made on a television program and asking for US$5 million in damages. On May 3, Zevallos filed another criminal defamation lawsuit, against Quesada Garland, Quesada Cisneros, Ampuero, and Ramírez. Zevallos is also requesting US$100 million in damages in a parallel civil lawsuit naming El Comercio as a third civil party, according to the newspaper.

The lawsuits came after El Comercio published several articles in April linking Zevallos, founder, former owner, and now corporate adviser to the Lima-based AeroContinente airlines, to drug traffickers. Zevallos denies El Comercio's allegations and says that the newspaper has been acting under pressure by stockholders from Lan Perú, which is owned by owned by AeroContinente's rival, Lan Chile.

Zevallos, who built his airline from scratch in the 1980s into Peru's largest, has been linked by the Peruvian and international press to drug trafficking and money laundering. In January 2002, El Comercio published a leaked U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration document, whose authenticity was later confirmed, saying Zevallos was under investigation for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

In 2001, Zevallos faced charges of complicity with drug traffickers but was acquitted in 2002 for lack of evidence. He faces a new trial in June 2004 on charges that he used cocaine profits to help build his airline, according to The Associated Press. In January 2004, U.S. immigration authorities banned Zevallos from re-entering the United States, where he has a home in Miami, Florida.

MAY 20, 2004
Posted: May 26, 2004

Sally Bowen, freelancer
Jane Holligan, freelancer
LEGAL ACTION

Freelance journalists Bowen and Holligan received a notice from Judge Alfredo Catacora Acevedo informing them that he had opened a preliminary investigation into a defamation case brought against the journalists by high-profile businessman Fernando Zevallos and ordered them to appear before him on May 27.

Zevallos brought criminal charges against Bowen and Holligan, co-authors of the book The Imperfect Spy: The Many Lives of Vladimiro Montesinos, contending that the book has irreparably harmed his image, according to the Lima-based daily El Comercio. The book is about former intelligence adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now imprisoned, and cites testimony from a source who claims that Montesinos and Zevallos had close ties. Zevallos is also asking for US$10 million in damages in a parallel civil lawsuit.

Bowen is based in the capital, Lima, where she has lived for the last 15 years. Holligan now lives in Scotland, according to The Associated Press (AP).

In the May 20 notice, Judge Catacora also ordered the two journalists not to leave Lima and to sign in at Lima's Eleventh Penal Court at the end of each month.

However, after hearing Bowen's testimony on May 25, Judge Catacora lifted the travel restrictions and allowed her to leave that same evening for the United Kingdom, where she will attend her daughter's wedding, the AP reported. Bowen will still need judicial permission to travel outside Lima when she returns.

Zevallos is the founder, former owner, and now corporate adviser to the Lima-based AeroContinente airlines. He has been linked by the Peruvian and international press to drug trafficking and money laundering. In January 2002, El Comercio published a leaked U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration document, whose authenticity was later confirmed, saying Zevallos was under investigation for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

In 2001, Zevallos faced charges of complicity with drug traffickers but was acquitted in 2002 for lack of evidence. He faces a new trial in June 2004 on charges that he used cocaine profits to help build his airline, according to the AP. In January 2004, U.S. immigration authorities banned Zevallos from re-entering the United States, where he has a home in Miami, Florida.

Zevallos denies the drug trafficking allegations against him.

DECEMBER 27, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Duber Maruiola Labán, Centinela
ATTACKED, IMPRISONED

A group of more than 50 peasants beat and kidnapped radio journalist Maruiola in the town of Huancabamba, Piura Department, in northwestern Peru, and held him for three days. The kidnappers had accused Maruiola of promoting the interests of the Majaz SA copper mining company in his coverage for the local radio station Centinela.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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