24 May 2010

Federal court could take over cases of murdered journalists in Peru

The IAPA depicted as positive its recent international mission to Peru. Mission goals were to review the overall state of press freedom in the South American country and discuss specific cases of news media and individual journalists who are prevented from working without restrictions.
The IAPA depicted as positive its recent international mission to Peru. Mission goals were to review the overall state of press freedom in the South American country and discuss specific cases of news media and individual journalists who are prevented from working without restrictions. IAPA 1st Vice President Gonzalo Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, declared, “In Peru a systematic government policy to limit freedom of the press has not been identified,” and he welcomed a commitment by the three branches of government to look into specific cases in which the right to freedom of information was violated. One of the most noteworthy successes occurred during the delegation’s meeting with the head of the Peruvian Judiciary, Javier Villa Stein. Stein accepted the IAPA’s recommendations and pledged that cases involving murdered journalists, when committed because of the victims’ work, might be dealt with in special criminal courts. During a joint press conference with the IAPA at the end of the meeting on Friday, Villa Stein stated that he would submit this initiative to the consideration of the Judicial Executive Council “since this kind of case should be treated in a special manner due to its gravity and how it affects society’s right to be informed.” Contrary to a previous rejection by the Judiciary to set up a special criminal court to deal with crimes against journalists, on this occasion Villa Stein considered the IAPA proposal to create a special jurisdiction to be beneficial and in line with Peru’s existing courts that hear cases of drug trafficking and terrorism. The legal initiative received the express support of President Alan García who, following the meeting with the IAPA international delegation stated that if it is approved by the Judiciary the government would provide adequate funding to establish such a special jurisdiction. Referring to the broad range of cases raised with the president, Marroquín voiced his organization’s satisfaction at the “firm demonstration and commitment of President Alan García to respect freedom of the press and of expression.” At an hour-long meeting the president promised to look into the closing of radio station La Voz de Bagua, whose reopening is pending an administrative decision from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. La Voz de Bagua is a small radio station in the Amazonian town of Bagua. It was shut down last year by the government following violent protests by members of the local indigenous community that left 24 police officers and 10 protestors dead. Carlos Flores, director of the radio station, was found not guilty of charges of sedition and fomenting crime, but officials are still keeping the station closed for alleged operational and transmission equipment violations. On the matter of Canal 4 television’s property rights, which have been threatened by the channel’s former owner, José Enrique Crousillat, currently at large following retraction of a presidential pardon, President García gave the IAPA assurances that those rights would be respected by the government. Crousillat was granted the pardon because of his age (78) and ill state of health after his extradition from Argentina and after serving part of a sentence for corruption for “delivering” the channel’s editorial support to Vladimiro Montesinos for $80 million. García also expressed his hope that the justice system will soon fully solve the murder case of Alberto Rivera Fernández which is pending a ruling on the identity of the mastermind behind the crime. Rivera was killed in Pucallpa on April 21, 2004. In a meeting with Congressional Deputy Speaker Michael Urtecho, the IAPA delegation reviewed Peruvian legislation relevant to press freedom. Urtecho informed that he would soon announce the results of a Special Parliamentary Commission investigation into the role of the government in the La Voz de Bagua case. Urtecho also promised to relay IAPA recommendations regarding violence against journalists and impunity to the Justice Commission. The IAPA has been insisting on the need for constitutional and legal reforms that would increase the maximum length of detention in cases of crimes against journalists from 24 hours to 15 days and double or triple the length of statutes of limitations in the same crimes, along with introduction of a legislative bill to eliminate all statutes of limitation for homicides ending in the death of a journalist. During its meeting with Villa Stein the IAPA brought up its previous requests that journalists’ associations take part in legal proceedings and that legal steps be taken to establish the participation of an ad hoc association made up of professional journalists to play an oversight role in criminal investigations into crimes against journalists. These initiatives were previously raised by the IAPA during the Legislative-Press Forum held in Lima in November 2008. During the two-day working sessions in Lima, in which former IAPA president Danilo Arbilla of the Montevideo, Uruguay, Búsqueda; Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti also took part, the delegation met with Javier Velásquez Quesquén, chairman of the Council of Ministers. Earlier the international delegation held meetings with reporters and editors, members of the Peruvian Press Council (CPP), the Press and Society Institute (IPyS) and representatives of inland news media who voiced their complaints of attacks and violence. It also met with the family and lawyers of Alberto Rivera Fernández and with attorney César Nakasaki, defense counsel to former Pucallpa mayor Luis Valdez Villacorta who is still under investigation as the alleged mastermind behind the journalist’s murder despite two acquittals in separate trials. The IAPA delegates met with lawyers and owners of the La Voz de Bagua radio station and with the lawyer and son of the editor of the weekly newspaper Nor Oriente, Alejandro Carrascal Carrasco, who was sentenced to a year in prison on a libel charge, and with Canal 8 TV director Geovanni Acate whose broadcast license was cancelled.