November 9, 1998
On June 23, Your Excellency hosted a delegation of international press freedom organizations who were visiting Lima to investigate a series of attacks against Peruvian journalists. Americas program coordinator Joel Simon represented the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in that meeting. We were gratified by your apparent concern for press freedom and by your pledge to investigate abuses. Four months after that visit, however, we feel compelled to bring to your attention a series of attacks and threats against Peruvian journalists which have raised new concerns.
During our June meeting, we asked you about possible government involvement in a campaign to discredit and intimidate independent journalists. We were particularly alarmed by evidence suggesting a government role in a series of defamatory articles about them published in Lima's tabloid newspapers.
You answered that your government strictly respected press freedom and had no official policy of inhibiting the work of journalists. Nevertheless, you acknowledged that individuals within the government could have been responsible for threats or attacks against the press and you promised to investigate this matter. We were relieved that several days after our visit, the defamatory articles ceased. We hope that the investigation is ongoing and we await the results.
Recent attacks and threats against Peruvian journalists have heightened our concern for the safety of journalists in Lima covering national security issues, and for journalists working in the provinces.
The most recent incident of intimidation occurred on November 2, when two phone calls were made threatening the Lima daily La República. A man called the cellular phone of publisher Gustavo Mohme Llona. He warned Mohme that he would be killed if he covered the visit of members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which arrived in Peru on November 8.
That same day, a call was made to the newspaper's offices by a man who also alluded to the commission's visit, saying "We the patriots aren't going to allow that they intervene in our affairs."
Another alarming incident occurred on October 26, when Cecilia Valenzuela, whose critical television news program "Without Censorship" was canceled on October 11, received a death threat in an envelope bearing the seal of the Peruvian Congress. The letter, which had been left at her residence, read "You're going to die, bitch (vas a morir, perra)." It was composed of pieces of text clipped from different newspapers.
In another incident, on August 21, public prosecutor José Ochoa Lamas began a criminal investigation of television news anchor César Hildebrandt for espionage and treason. The investigation stemmed from a story broadcast on Hildebrandt's popular nightly news show "In Person (En Persona)" which discussed peace treaty negotiations with Ecuador. While the charges against Hildebrandt have been dropped, the lawsuit has had a chilling effect on Peru's journalists, whose professional obligation demands that they publish or broadcast information of legitimate public interest. According to a report broadcast on Hildebrandt's program, a high-ranking military commander denounced the journalist as a "traitor" during a meeting on November 5 with other high-ranking military officials.
We are also concerned about a series of threats against provincial reporters. For example, radio reporter Isaac García, who covered municipal elections in Tarapoto, has been receiving death threats since September, when he aired a speech in which a government minister endorsed a local candidate in municipal elections. Under Peruvian law, it is illegal for government officials to endorse candidates.
During the June meeting, the members of the delegation expressed concern about a Superior Court decision in January which annulled the verdict against six army officers and one civilian who had been convicted of the dynamite attack on Global Television in Puno in October 1996. We are pleased that the Supreme Court reversed that decision in September and ordered a new trial, but are disturbed that the men who were freed remain at large.
While we appreciate your public statements in support of press freedom, and your willingness to meet CPJ's representative and discuss this issue, we remain concerned for the safety of Peruvian journalists. We ask you to include the recent threats against journalists in your ongoing investigation, and to ensure that those who seek to intimidate or threaten the press -- whether they are inside or outside the government -- are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Ann K. Cooper
Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Peru