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Uruguay11 October 2006

Journalist threatened by soldiers “nostalgic for military dictatorship”

Reporters Without Borders today condemned death threats sent by e-mail last week to freelance journalist Alfonso Lessa by a person calling himself a “soldier in active service” who took issue with what he has said about the army. Lessa writes for the Montevideo-based daily El País as well as working for the Canal 12 TV station.

“These threats must be taken seriously,” the press freedom organisation said. “Lessa is a recognised specialist in the military dictatorship, which deeply scarred public opinion. It is no coincidence that the threats have followed the first convictions of military and police personnel for grave human rights violations during the dictatorship’s worst years. It is dangerous to tackle this subject.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “It is unfortunately not clear that all the military are ready to face the truth about the past. The investigation into these threats must not stop short of the gates to the military barracks.”

The author of the two threatening e-mails identified himself as a “low-ranking officer.” One of the messages accused Lessa, who has written several books about the 1973-1985 dictatorship, of lying when he said junior officers wanted superiors who had committed crimes against humanity to be brought to trial in order to ease the pressure of the past on the armed forces.

The Uruguayan Press Association (APU), which revealed the existence of the threats, said they came from “military officers who were nostalgic for the dictatorship.”

The threats against Lessa came after a group of eight police and military officers were convicted of human rights violations during the dictatorship by judge Luis Charles and were imprisoned. The judge also ordered a judicial investigation into several armed forces commanders and Retired General Gregorio Álvarez, who ruled as military-backed president from 1981 until the return to democracy in 1985.

A debate is currently raging as to whether these unprecedented judicial initiatives violate the so-called “Ley de Caducidad,” a law protecting the armed forces from any prosecution which parliament passed in 1986 for the sake of civil peace and which was approved by referendum in 1986. Lessa has argued in interviews that the law was designed to ensure a smooth transition to democracy but does prevent justice from being done.

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