The Peruvian press enjoys considerable freedom, but remains vulnerable to the country's precarious form of democracy and faces intimidation and harassment by national and regional government officials, the military, and criminal gangs.

Four journalists unfairly convicted of subversion under Peru's draconian anti-terrorist laws are currently in prison, serving sentences of up to 20 years. President Alberto Fujimori granted special presidential pardons to four others in 1996. And while Fujimori acknowledged that the journalists – as well as others who had been convicted of subversion – were unjustly imprisoned, their criminal record stands and they cannot claim damages for the state's error. One of the freed journalists, Jesús Alfonso Castiglione Mendoza, a respected radio journalist, had received his 20-year sentence after a ten-minute trial – the work of Peru's infamous "faceless court," a panel of judges hidden behind a one-way mirror.

The increasingly independent stance of the Peruvian press has made it a much more politically formidable institution. According to public opinion polls, only the Catholic Church has greater credibility. Moreover, in a significant shift in society's view of the media, Peruvians have turned to the press for support in their quest to make government institutions accountable. There is widespread distrust of elected officials and skepticism about the judiciary's and legislature's independence from the president. "The institutional crisis has obliged the press to take on the role of accountability," says Francisco Miró Quesada, executive editor of El Comercio, the country's oldest and most influential major newspaper.

At the same time, Peruvian journalists are becoming more self-critical, conscious that ethical lapses could taint the media's public image.

New tensions between the press and Fujimori have arisen in the wake of the dramatic takeover of the Japanese embassy by members of the armed Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a leftist guerrilla group, that began on Dec. 17. At the rebels' invitation, journalists slipped past police security on Dec. 31 and entered the besieged compound to conduct interviews with rebel leaders. Such actions have raised concerns that the hostage crisis could result in a setback to prospects for the elimination or reform of special tribunals and other anti-terrorist laws that the Fujimori government have used against the press.

In 1992, Fujimori showed just how fragile democracy is in Peru when he suspended the constitution, dismissed the Congress, and assumed near-dictatorial powers, including direct executive control of the judiciary. Fujimori won a second five-year term in the 1995 election, and his party secured control of the congress. The president had promised the October dismantlement of the faceless court system, which he had established during the "self-coup." But in a troubling setback on Oct. 11, the Congress approved a bill extending the system for another year.

In a positive development, the Congress, at Fujimori's request, granted amnesty in December to a retired general who had been detained in a military prison after a television interview in which he denounced human rights abuses by the military. In the interview, the retired general, Rodolfo Robles, alleged that a military death squad had blown up the transmission tower of Global Television , a local station in Puno that has been critical of the government. The military court – which claims jurisdiction over all active and retired military personnel – charged Robles with insubordination.

April 2
Carlos Maravi, La República, THREATENED

Maravi, editor-in-chief of the daily La República, received an anonymous threatening letter that was also sent to other media outlets. The letter accused the daily of defending the former president of Peru, Alan García, and stated that Maravi would be put in "his rightful place" along with others involved in an alleged meeting to draw plans to exculpate the former president of charges of embezzlement that were to be heard by the Supreme Court. In particular, the letter alleged that Mirko Lauer, a columnist at La República, had taken part in the meeting.

May 3
Enrique Cuñeo, El Comercio, ATTACKED, HARASSED
Javier Zapata, Caretas, ATTACKED, HARASSED

Llaja, a cameraman with Canal 5 television; Cuñeo, a photographer with the daily El Comercio; and Zapata, a photographer with the weekly magazine Caretas, were beaten by security guards at Lima's City Hall. The journalists were covering a labor dispute between municipal employees and the mayor's office when security personnel tried to prevent them from filming the event by beating them and destroying the cameras of Cuñeo and Zapata. The mayor later issued a public apology to the journalists and announced that there would be an investigation into the matter. In a report issued at the end of May, the commission that investigated the incident concluded that the head of the Lima police, José La Madrid Ponce, was to blame for the aggressive behavior of the officers at the demonstration. The commission also said that the police reacted inappropriately and used excessive force. La Madrid's handling of the affair will now be the subject of a judicial inquiry.

June 6
Miguel Pérez Julca, Radio Oriental, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Pérez, a reporter with Radio Oriental, was arrested after he refused to appear before a tribunal in Chiclayo, in northwestern Peru, on charges of terrorism. He was released two days later after protests by a Peruvian congresswoman, local press freedom organizations, and colleagues. Pérez had been arrested in 1991 on the same charges and had spent two years in prison awaiting trial. In 1993, he was acquitted, but that decision was later annulled. Under Peru's anti-terrorism law, a person acquitted of terrorism can be summoned to court on the same charges if the court annuls the acquittal.

June 14
Teobaldo Meléndez Fachin, Radio Oriente, Panamericana Televisión, ATTACKED, HARASSED

Meléndez, a reporter for Radio Oriente and Panamericana Televisión, was assaulted by soldiers from the Peruvian air force in the city of Yurimaguas in Callao province. Meléndez was covering the arrival of the bishop of Callao, Miguel Irizar Campos, at the Yurimaguas airport. When Meléndez tried to get close to the bishop to interview him, he was beaten by soldiers, who also confiscated his camera. They threatened to detain Meléndez if he resisted. The soldiers later returned the camera. The air force issued a statement about the incident, saying that Meléndez had verbally abused one of the soldiers. Meléndez denied that accusation.

June 20
Julio Alberto Quevedo Chavez, El Tarapotino, LEGAL ACTION
Luis Humberto Hidalgo Sánchez, Radio Tarapoto, LEGAL ACTION
César Herrera Luna, El Achichito, LEGAL ACTION

Quevedo, director of the magazine El Tarapotino; Hidalgo, director of Radio Tarapoto; and Herrera, director of the magazine El Achichito, were charged with defaming the former manager of the water treatment service in the city of Tarapoto. The charges stemmed from comments the three journalists had made about a 50 percent increase in the cost of drinking water in Tarapoto. The journalists also alluded to the water treatment service manager's alleged links to the guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). A judge imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on all three journalists and issued a "conditional freedom" order, which obligates them to ask for permission to leave Tarapoto. Quevedo, Hidalgo, and Herrera are currently awaiting trial.

October 19
Gisu Guerra, Peruvian News Channel (CPN), HARASSED

Security police detained Guerra, a reporter for the radio station CPN, for several hours, according to the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS). She had gone to the Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in Lima to interview an alleged member of Peru's National Intelligence Service (SIN), who later died. The police held her at the hospital, although she identified herself as a journalist, and then took her to a local branch of the National Criminal Investigations Unit. She was asked to give police a statement and then released.

October 24
Nicolas Lucar, Channel Four, HARASSED
Alamo Perez Luna, Channel Four, HARASSED

Lucar and Perez Luna, director and reporter for the program "La Revista Dominical" on the Channel Four television network, reported that they have been harassed by unidentified men who staked out Channel Four's offices in vans with tinted windows. The journalists believe the harassment is related to news reports about a prominent airline executive's alleged ties to drug traffickers. Lucar told the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) that the same vehicles have parked outside of his home and that he has received anonymous calls on his unlisted cellular telephone from an unidentified caller who asks for Lucar by name. Perez Luna said that similar vehicles had followed him from the Orson Welles Journalism Institute, where he teaches.

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