IAPA Midyear Meeting 2017

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

March 31 – April 3


This period has seen a setback in press freedom and freedom of expression, primarily due to the killing of three journalists.

The press carried out its work in a climate of political turmoil, exacerbated by the revelations and subsequent investigations related to corruption in dealings with Brazilian firms in the public and private sectors. These revelations encompass the last three presidents and their respective collaborators.

On November 20, journalist Hernán Choquepata Ordóñez, 46, was shot and killed by unidentified assailants who entered his broadcasting booth while he was hosting the program "Habla el pueblo" (The People Speak) on La Ribereña radio station in the province of Camaná, department of Arequipa.

Witnesses who were interviewed said that two unidentified individuals entered the radio station, beat the journalist, and shot him in the head. They destroyed broadcasting equipment and fled. Choquepata Ordóñez had reported receiving death threats. He was taken to the hospital but was dead on arrival. Journalists from La Ribereña attribute the killing to the journalist's harsh criticism and reporting on regional politicians.

On December 6, police arrested hitman Diego Armando Achulli Alarcón, but he was released by the representative of the public prosecutor's office in Camaná. On December 26, Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío Iglesias reported that at the request of Flor Arapa Mayta, widow of the slain journalist, her husband's case was added to the Anti-Crime Reward Program, which offers up to US$6,000 to anyone who provides information on the culprits' whereabouts.

Two other journalists have been killed in the past five months. They were tortured and abandoned in remote areas of the departments of Ica and Lima.

On February 27, the dismembered body of journalist, editor and producer José Feliciano Yactayo Rodríguez, 55, was found in a burnt suitcase by a group of farmers trying to extinguish a fire in the cane fields of Andahuasi, in Sayán, Huaura province.

According to spokespersons for the Peruvian National Police (PNP), Yactayo was tortured and mutilated, which made it difficult to identify his body. He was last seen on February 24, when friends dropped him off near his home in Lima. He was working on a documentary film on the reintegration of inmates and ex-convicts into society. He had expressed fear for his life. According to police, Yactayo was being followed by unidentified individuals and had been receiving threatening phone calls.

On March 13, the Anti-Crime Reward Program was activated in this case.

Elsewhere, on March 6 the Criminalistics Division of the PNP confirmed that the unrecognizable body found on February 26 in Ocucaje, department of Ica, was that of journalist Julio Moisés Mesco, who had disappeared on February 11. Moisés Mesco, who worked in the Ica provincial government, was last seen on February 8 while in transit from his home in Pisco Ica. The motive behind this killing has not yet been determined.

More than 50 journalists have been killed in Peru since 1982. Most of these killings remain unpunished, despite the fact that the jurisdiction of the "supra-provincial" criminal courts and prosecutor's offices was expanded in 2010 to handle these crimes.

The trial for the 1988 killing of Hugo Bustíos, a correspondent for Caretas magazine, by military officers in Huanta, Ayacucho, is in its final phase. The prosecution has requested a 25-year prison sentence for Daniel Urresti, former interior minister in the Ollanta Humala administration, for having ordered the killing. Urresti was working at the time as head of the intelligence service of the Castropampa Battalion in Huanta.

The verdict is expected to be handed down in the coming months.

With regard to the dispute surrounding the acquisition of Grupo Epensa by Grupo El Comercio, the positions of Grupo La República and of El Comercio and EPENSA have been stated as follows:

- "The position of Grupo La República is that the Inter American Press Association, at its 72nd General Assembly in October of last year, issued a resolution calling on the Peruvian judicial branch to rule on the injunction claim brought in November 2013 by eight journalists against Empresa Editora El Comercio over the acquisition of shares of Empresa Periodística Nacional (now Prensmart), a petition that should have been resolved promptly.

"After more than three years and four months since the claim was brought, no initial ruling has been handed down even though this type of case should be resolved in no more than 30 days.

"In the time since the petition was brought, the case has been reassigned multiple times to different judges; a number of different procedural motions from the defense have been admitted, further delaying the proceeding; and one of the complainants has passed away.

"Despite the IAPA's request, the case remains bogged down in procedural pleadings and is still unresolved. Therefore, the IAPA should continue to demand that the Peruvian judicial authorities resolve this dispute, in accordance with the words of the IAPA's own resolution: 'Justice delayed is justice denied.'"

- "For Grupo El Comercio and Grupo Epensa, the acquisition of 54% of the shares in Empresa Periodística Nacional EPENSA (now Prensmart), "the acquisition," did not give Empresa Editora El Comercio (GEC) "80 percent of all media outlets in Peru," but rather 80 percent of the readership of these media outlets. The difference is an important one: readers are free and have other options since, after the acquisition, GEC owns only nine of the 60 print newspapers in Peru.

"It should be further noted that the market for print media is permanently open to new competitors (in fact, since the acquisition two additional national newspapers have entered and remained in the market).

"Meanwhile, even if the situation in Peru's print media market were not as described, it would be anachronistic, after the appearance of online alternatives to the printed press in Peru, to consider the print media market to be the "key market" in determining whether plurality in the news and freedom of expression are in jeopardy.

"It should be noted that the 'control' of GEC with regard to Grupo La República's three media outlets refers solely to sales and printing: in the aforementioned acquisition it was decided that the editorial content of Prensmart's three newspapers would remain in the hands of a company wholly owned by the Agois family.

"Prensmart and GEC maintain that there is no merit to the filed claim because there is no risk to freedom of information or freedom of expression in Peru as a result of the partnership between the two groups. Therefore, Prensmart and GEC are also concerned about the delay in the judicial branch, in view of the fact that the injunction petition should have been dismissed or, at least, found to be without foundation by this time. Along these lines, both groups supported the resolution of the General Assembly in Mexico, which called on the judicial branch to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. At the same time, both groups maintain their position that a statement by the IAPA is not appropriate with regard to what is in fact a commercial dispute between competitors that in no way undermines freedom of expression, and in which there has been no political interference, as confirmed by the mission sent in 2014."

Judge Gilberto Cáceres Ramos in Tocache accepted the "habeas data" claim brought against several media outlets, requesting that within three days, and with a warning that "noncompliance would incur legal consequences," all journalistic investigative work tying the plaintiff, Miguel Arévalo Ramírez, to drug trafficking gangs in the coca-growing Alto Huallaga Valley and to foreign drug cartels since the 1980s be removed from the internet.

With regard to the invocation of the "right to be forgotten," the Peruvian Press Council rejected and denounced the procedural irregularities in the case. The council called attention to the dangerous reference to the "right to be forgotten" and the inconsistent interpretation of the Law on Protection of Personal Information.

The October 27 resolution ordered that the links on Arévalo and drug trafficking be removed from La República, El Comercio, Perú21, Gestión, Trome, Correo, the investigative journalism site Ojo Público, Caretas magazine, the newsweekly Hildebrandt en sus Trece, and the television networks América Televisión, Canal N, Willax Tv, and Cable Alfa Televisión; as well as the U.S technology company Google.

On November 22, the judge declared the original ruling null and void due to an "involuntary material error," although he kept open the "habeas data" constitutionality case brought by Arévalo Ramírez.

In January, pursuant to Legislative Decree 1353, an office described as "National Authority" was established in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUS) to deal with matters related to transparency and access to information, but this office was not given even the minimal powers that an entity of this nature needs. This measure would extend deadlines for answering requests and does nothing to counter criteria for classification and for confidential and reserved information. Nor does this measure address the secrecy that is ingrained in the defense sector.

However, the decree includes positive changes for the Law on Protection of Personal Information, including with regard to the use of data "in the course of the constitutionally valid exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of information."

On March 7, a bill titled "Proposed Law to Protect the People's Rights and Freedoms Related to Information" (PL Nº 1026/2016-CR) was submitted by members of the Fujimorist faction of the legislature.

This bill is designed to intimidate the press and curtail the editorial independence of the media in the context of the fight against corruption. Article 1 states that the law's purpose is "to avoid any influence over an outlet's content and editorial line, among other similar concepts, as a result of the interference of acts of corruption by principals or third parties related to the media."

It states that any person investigated by the public prosecutor's office for corruption to the detriment of the Peruvian State may not "be the president or a member of the board of directors, a shareholder, a general manager, or an attorney-in-fact of a media outlet." This prohibition covers "journalistic directors, editors, producers, or any other similar position whose duties have an influence on the editorial line of a media outlet."

Other developments in this period:

On February 20, Antonio Bazán Chero, a journalist for the newspaper La Industria; Fátima Constantino and Juan Vejarano, journalists for the newspaper La República; and Juan Mendoza, a correspondent for the newspaper Perú21, stated that a judge in Chiclayo had brought charges against them for allegedly violating her son's rights by revealing details from the file of a domestic violence case brought against the judge, a case in which her teenage son was the alleged victim.

On February 13, journalist Luis Amoretti Yupanqui, director of the program Vox Populy on Channel 45 BTV in Chincha, department of Ica, reported that he was assaulted by municipal police officers while covering a nighttime police action against young people near the Plaza de Armas in that city.

On February 4, journalist Marco Bonifacio Sánchez, host of the program "El Canillita" on Turbo Mix Radio y Televisión in the city of Cajamarca, was forced into a vehicle where he was tortured, including an attempt to cut off his tongue. The journalist had reported receiving threats in retaliation for his work.

On February 4, the National Association of Journalists denounced Miguel Ángel Calderón Paz, director of public relations and institutional communication of the regional government of San Martín, for making the placement of government advertising contingent upon news coverage of the regional government.

On February 2, journalists Asencio Quiñones Molina and Henry Cuevas Centeno, hosts of the morning news show on Channel 41 Machupicchu TV in Cusco, were attacked by workers belonging to the Civil Construction Union. The mob forced its way in while the network was broadcasting a story critical of Héctor Calla Churaw, former secretary general of the union, and they destroyed the television studio and stole a video camera.

The union secretary apologized for the behavior of his union members, but he announced that he would file a defamation claim against the journalists.

On January 18, the Foreign Press Association in Peru rejected the restrictions imposed on photographers and camera operators in covering the meetings of leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum held in Lima.

On January 5, Marco Antonio Ramón Huaroto, a photographer for Perú21 newspaper, was seriously injured by four pellet shots to his face and left hand, fired by a police officer while Huaroto was covering the clash between the National Police and a group of residents in Puente Piedra, Lima province. Huaroto was taken to the United States to undergo eye surgeries.

On January 13, Hernán Hernández Kcomt of La República and Karina Aliaga Neyra, a reporter for ATV+ Noticias, Channel 9, were injured by pellet shots while reporting on the same protest.

On December 5, Renato Sandoval González, editor of Correo newspaper northern edition, was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay 5,000 soles in civil reparations for aggravated defamation.