Peru

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PERU It is becoming ever more customary for state institutions to impose restrictions on the gathering of public information. For example, on May 25, the Administrative Council of the Judidary barred all judges, including the presiding magistrates of the higher courts, from giving statements to the media. To justify this action, the judidal authorities dusted off a memorandum dated October 15,1987- by now completely outdated - which indicated that "every statement to the press should be channeled solely through the chief justice of the Supreme Court, with the exception of higher-ranking spokespersons commenting on issues with which they are conversant." There are some senstive cases currently before the courts, such as two corruption cases against eformer president Alan Garda. There are also drug-trafficking trials taking place involving high-ranking military officers and alleged organized crime bosses, among the more newsworthy judidal proceedings. Local news organizations say the public has the right to be informed about the progress of thse trials directly, not through communiques or "authorized spokesmen." August 24. The National Supervisory Commission for Enterprises and Securities (Conasev) approved a regulation applying to "Events of Importance and Reserved Information." The regulation sets forth that "reserved information" coming from publicly held corporations should be communicated first to Conasev and the Stock Exchange, before the company making the announcement informs any media outlet. There are already provisions in the nation's Penal Code to discourage economic disinformation and to pursue and punish such actions. May 28. The print media presented a complaint alleging discrimination in relation to trips taken by President Alberto Fujimori to the interior of the country. The presidency was said to be giving blatant preference for coverage to the broadcast media. There is a proliferation of agreements that public entities persuade media outlets to sign in exchange for providing them special information. It should be pointed out that there have been renewed cases of retired military officers' being court-martialed for making statements to the press that did not please the Armed Forces or the presidency. They are all retired military men who, in accordance with Article 12 of the Law Governing Military Status, were no longer under military jurisdiction. Nor had the convicted officers, in their statements to the media, discussed military information that had not already been publicly divulged. In this regards, the nation's Constitution makes it clear that there is no such thing as a crime of opinion, and that alleged crimes involving the press should be adjudicated by the civil courts. This series of incidents, therefore, was seen as amounting to a systematic and overbearing attitude on the part of military authorities aimed at obstructing the free dissemination of ideas and free expression. June 13. A reform the Constitution as it relates to what has become known as "Habeas Data" ("Right of Discovery"), which was initiated more than a year ago, has concluded. This legal concept now applies solely to the obtaining of information from government agencies, bank and tax secrecy, and protection of personal privacy. "Habeas Data" can no longer be used to force the media to issue a correction - which can be done through legal action. June 14. The national Congress passed a law authorizing a general amnesty for military and police personnel and civilians accused of, or investigated or sentenced for crimes growing out of the battle against terrorism. Although the measure, which has been strongly criticized by the general public, is principally intended to absolve from responsibility members of the military who committed excesses during the anti-guerrilla campaign, it also has implications for press freedom in that it maintains the impunity in the deaths of two journalists. They were Hugo Bustios, of Caretas, murdered in 1988 in Huanta - - allegedly by an army officer nicknamed "Cat's Eye" - and Pedro Yaur! of Radio Universal, murdered in 1992, in Huacho, by what was believed to be a paramilitary group known as Colina. June 25. In Chimbote, a criminal court sentenced the editor of the newspaper El Tiempo, Victor Rodriguez Paz, to three years' house arrest for allegedly defaming Congressman Juan Herrnoza Rios. The sentence was handed down by the court's chief judge, Dr. Manuela Rodriguez Vega, and has been appealed. July 2. In Ayacucho, a lower-court criminal judge, Jose Luis Pinares Salinas, ordered the arrest of the local correspondent for El Comercio, Hugo Ned Alarcon. He had photographed the courthouse where a case was being heard in which military officers implicated in drug-trafficking were reportedly being summarily freed. Judge Pinares Salinas berated the newsman from the bench, ordering his detention and the confiscation of his camera. Nevertheless, given the fact that there was neither a corresponding written order nor any justified cause, the police freed Alarcon 15 minutes later. Several Peruvian journalists arrested on pro-terrorist charges all have now been tried or are currently on trial. They are Alfonso Castiglione Mendoza (sentenced to 20 years); Hermes Rivera Guerreo (his case is on appeal in the Supreme Court); Emilio Carrasco Moreno (sentence to be determined); Javier Tuanama Velera (10 years); Alfredo Loza Aparicio (the prosecutor has asked for a 20-year sentence); Jose Antonio Alvarez Pachas (6 years); Eduardo Sihue Cano (6 years); Antero Gargurevich Oliva (12 years); Pedro Carranza Ugaz (his case is under review by the Supreme Court); David Cajahuaman Picoy (awaiting a formal charge to be filed by a prosecutor in Huancayo); and Juan Huamancusi Quispel (declared a prisoner at large). On the other hand, journalist Pedro Valdez Bernales was freed after being sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. It was later shown that he had no links to the Shining Path guerrillas as had been alleged. A series of legislative decrees and Penal Code provisions remain in effect that it is felt could pose a risk to press freedom, such as when, for instance, underqualified magistrates abuse their judicial privileges. In this connection, remaining in force is Article 157 of the Penal Code, which sets penalties for those who keep news files containing "data relating to political convictions." Articles 154 and 164, which deal with the right to privacy, make no exception for events that are of public interest. Articles 240 and 249 set penalties for disseminating news that damages a corporation's financial standing, even when there is absence of malice. (The two statutes fail to take into consideration the fact that a news item may be factual and carefully edited but can still cause financial losses to a company or give rise to unanticipated alarm.) Article 331 contains sanctions for anyone publishing confidential information (although it does not clearly define it). In the same vein, three congressional decrees dealing with the country's pacification program - Nos. 733, 743 and 746 - even though they have been amended, still have various provisions that have the potential of being abused and thus attacking press freedom. September 25. Congresswoman and newspaper editor Maria Ofelia Cerro Moral introduced a bill that refines the wording of controversial provisions of the Penal Code, precisely to avert any risk of their being applied in an overly broad manner. Violations of press freedom in Peru in recent months include: May 27. The offices of the magazine Caretas, and the home of one of its investigative reporters, were burglarized, but the intruders were more interested in destroying documents than stealing valuables. A few hours after these two break-ins, a third occurred at the home of another staffer of the same magazine, Jimmy Torres. Torres later received a death threat. To date, no one has been arrested. June 14. President Fujimori harshly criticized an America Televisión newscast containing news of a reported resurgence of terrorism in Ayacucho. The upshot was that plans to broadcast a second segment of the report were scrapped. July 14. Reporter Monica Chang of TV Channel 2 is under a death threat from unidentified persons after she broadcast a report of an attack on a businessman. In her report, she focused on two individuals, believed responsible for the assault. September 7. A serious incident occurred in the Callao jail when a group of prison guards, who had been implicated in the escape of three dangerous gang members, began beating up several journalists. Four guards involved in the episode were later fired. September 14. The correspondent of TV Channel 4 in Ayacucho, Alejandro Coronado, was startled by several bursts of machinegun fire that raked his home. Coronado had been uncovering cases of corruption and drug-trafficking involving members of the armed forces. The IAPA has protested the incident. September 25. Two journalists representing Panamerican Television, headquartered in Lima, Beto Ortiz and Alfredo Bonilla, were detained for three hours in Quito, Ecuador, and a strip of the film footage that they had shot was erased. The two had traveled to the Ecuadorean capital to produce a report on alleged bribery by the Ecuadorean army of a group of journalists covering the recent Ecuador-Peru armed border conflict. The reporters had even been granted an interview with Ecuador's minister of defense, who, by contrast, had received them in an atmosphere of cordiality and respect. Ortiz and Bonilla were, however, later detained while shooting takes of the exterior of the Quito TV station, Tele Amazonas. Members of the station's personal security staff, saying filming the building's exterior was prohibited, forced the two Peruvian cameramen inside and locked them in an office. Minutes later, two individuals identifying themselves as belonging to the Ecuadorean Intelligence Service began subjecting the pair to a lengthy interrogation. Their video film was later returned to them but with the footage of the building's facade and surrounding streets erased. During their detention they were barred from communicating with the Peruvian consulate. Three hours after the journalists were detained, an Ecuadorean colleague helped them contact the consulate. Oct. 11, 1995. Air Force personnel attacked a group of journalists in attempt to block coverage of a military alrcraft accident at the Air Group 6 Base at Chiclayo. The military, moreover, snatched their video and photographic cameras. The incident only succeded in the media giving the crash more headlines. One problem that continues unresolved in Peru is the heavy tax burden imposed on the media, higher than elsewhere in the region. A study by the IAPA demonstrates that while in 18 countries the media are exempt from sales tax or value added taxes, in Peru an 18% tax is payable. Duties and other levies on imported newsprint total 35.7% (including 15% ad valorem plus 18% VAT), while in 12 other Latin American countries newsprint they come to only 12% and in 13 others there are no import duties at all on this increasingly expensive newspaper commodity. In this economic climate, the independent magazine Giga, edited by Francisco Igartua, ceased publication. Major media throughout Peru signed a memorial document lamenting the fact that material problems could smother such essential components of society as the independent media. Unfortunately, Giga's case is not an isolated one; more such losses can be anticipated in the near future.

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