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Open letter urges incoming president to ensure that journalists no longer fear imprisonment

Open letter urges incoming president to ensure that journalists no longer fear imprisonment

Published on Thursday 28 July 2011.
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Mr. Ollanta Humala
President of the Republic
Government Palace,
Lima, Peru

Dear President Humala,

Today you assume the office that the citizens of Peru conferred on you in an election on 5 June. At a forum organized on 29 April by the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), during a campaign often marked by serious violations of editorial freedom, you promised, if elected, to refrain from bringing any prosecution against journalists in connection with their work.

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, hails your undertaking but asks you to go further.

We were pleased to learn that on 21 July the Parliament’s standing committee approved an amendment to the criminal code eliminating prisons sentences for defamation. This major legislative step now awaits your signature. We hope it will be a first step towards the complete decriminalization of media offences in Peru. Your installation should mean that journalists will no longer have to fear imprisonment.

The last presidential term was marked by a series of convictions that violated both the principles of Peru’s constitution and Inter-American legal standards. The most serious concerns Paul Garay Ramírez, a programme producer for Visión 47 TV and a correspondent for Radio La Exitosa, who has been jailed since 19 April. We call for his immediate release.

Two and a half months later, on 6 July, a court in Libertad sentenced Hans Francisco Andrade Chávez, the producer of the América TV news programme “América Noticias,” to two years in prison and damages of 4,000 soles (1,000 euros) in a case brought by a Chepén municipal official, Juan Vásquez. It concerns comments that Andrade, who fortunately remains free pending an appeal, did not himself make. They were made by a political party representative in a studio interview. As the lawsuit named only Andrade, the court should have rejected it.

Four other journalists were given jail sentences in defamation cases in 2010.

This judicial challenge must not detract from the importance of media security and the need to combat impunity. A pall was cast over World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, this year by the fatal shooting of Radio Ollantay programme producer Julio Castillo Narváez, 41, in the city of Virú. Three suspects have so far been arrested but neither the identity of the instigator nor the motive has yet been established. Why such slow progress?

Judicial proceedings are often delayed or blocked when they concern elected politicians, local government officials or police officers. This has been the case, for example, with Miguel Pérez Julca, a reporter who was gunned down in the city of Jaén in 2007 after accusing the local police of criminal practices. His murderers have still not been brought to justice.

Similarly, no one understands former Pucallpa mayor Luis Valdez Villacorta’s second acquittal in February 2010 although he was repeatedly identified as the mastermind of the April 2004 murder of radio Frecuencia Oriental journalist Alberto Rivera Fernández.

The rule of law requires judicial courage. It also requires an end to the targeted harassment of certain media and their representatives. The utterly illegal suspension of the radio station La Voz de Bagua Grande for 14 months after the June 2009 riots in Yurimaguas was decided at a very high level. Although the station resumed broadcasting in August 2010, its owner, Aurora Burgos, is now facing imprisonment on a charge of illegally using a radio frequency. Such persecution must stop.

We would like to believe that the undertaking you gave on 29 April will result not only in an improvement in the ability of journalists to do their job but also in the removal of the obstacles to media pluralism and freedom of information that are highlighted in these various cases.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

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