Reporters Without Borders today expressed its deep concern at threats and attacks by elected officials against journalists in several parts of the country throughout November, including a murder attempt, and slammed government silence on the issue.
The mayor of Huari in the west, his armed henchmen and several municipal officials came close to killing journalist José Ramírez Villacorta in an ambush on 11 November. Two days later, the mayor of Otuzco in northwestern Peru, brutally ejected a journalist from a public session of the municipal council. Journalists working for radio FM 98 in Huánuco, central Peru, and La Karibeña in La Joya in the south have been harassed and intimidated.
“Local corruption and an upsurge in drug-trafficking make the work of the local press extremely difficult,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Provincial journalists have suffered a ‘black November’ and we unreservedly condemn reprisals and intimidation against them by elected officials who seem to think that their office gives them impunity”
“Judicial leniency, from which two elected officials benefited recently, both of whom were suspected of ordering the murder of a journalist in 2004, also sends a very bad signal. We note with regret that the government, and in particular the interior ministry, remain deaf to our repeated appeals for genuine respect for press freedom, which is recognised by the Constitution.”
José Ramírez Villacorta, journalist on the daily La Primera, was ambushed at dawn on 11 November while in his car with his driver and two friends in the Huari area after being followed by three trucks, one belonging to the local council, with the mayor of Huair, Edwards Delfio Vizcarra Zorrilla, and several officials on board.
The mayor, his two bodyguards and municipal councillors, Hubert Solís and Miguel Navas, and three police officers forced him out of his car. Ramírez Villacorta managed to escape and as he ran off heard the mayor giving orders for him to be killed.
The journalist had for several months been investigating the mayor’s implication in corruption and the mayor also suspected him of being the author of graffiti accusing the president of the Ancash region of corruption.
“He came after me shooting in the air but I managed to escape, but they stole my camera and a tape-recorder” he told Reporters Without Borders. Police arrested the mayor’s companions and seized a firearm. Ramírez Villacorta made a complaint to the Huari prosecutor against 25 people, including Edwards Delfio Vizcarra Zorrilla, for putting his life in danger.
The mayor of Otuzco, Diómedes Venero Ortecho, brutally manhandled and ejected journalist Sandra Landero, of Radio Chami, from a public session of the municipal council on 13 November, even though she had been authorised to attend. Her radio station had launched a “citizen vigilance” campaign against corruption and had condemned fraud in which the mayor was implicated.
Editor of Radio Chami Oscar Fajardo, told Reporters Without Borders that the mayor of Otuzco was trying to curb freedom of information and was harassing journalists. He had had photos taken of several journalists and mounted a campaign of denigration against them in municipal newsletters. “He is a very aggressive man who does not like to be watched by the media. I even fear that a journalist could be killed, the situation is tense and difficult,” said Oscar Fajardo, adding that he would hold the mayor responsible for any further attack on a Radio Chami reporter.
The following day, Jhon Rupay Machaguay, of radio FM 98 in Huánuco, was beaten and threatened by Gustavo Sotomayor Quipusco, municipal councillor in the Mariano Dámaso Beraún region, who tried to take documents from the journalist that compromised the mayor, Freddy Fernández.
An associate of the mayor of La Joya made a telephone threat on 6 November against the manager of radio La Karibeña, David Luque Ylaquita, who with his colleagues, Miguel Carazas and Walter Payé, tried to get information on the municipality’s spending. At the same moment stones were thrown at the radio station building.