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Peru28 February 2008

El Comercio reporter threatened by drug kingpin’s henchmen

Reporters Without Borders appealed today for more vigilance from the authorities, especially the interior ministry, following telephone threats against Miguel Ramírez of the Lima-based daily El Comercio. Ramírez was also accused of “extortion” on 22 February by Luis Dávila, a detainee charged with drug trafficking who is believed to be in the pay of convicted drug kingpin Fernando Zevallos.

“Ramírez has been covering the activities of Fernando Zevallos for more than 10 years and the fact that Zevallos is currently in prison does not prevent his networks from operating,” the press freedom organisation said.

“It is dangerous for journalists to cover drug trafficking. Ramírez’s situation and that of the entire El Comercio staff require more vigilance from the relevant authorities,” the organisation added. “We also hope the judicial authorities will quickly shed light on these extortion allegations, which were clearly made with the aim of discrediting Ramírez.”

Referring to drug traffickers yesterday in a phone call with Reporters Without Borders, Ramírez said, “I have for some time had the feeling that they have begun watching me again.” Five days ago, he got two calls at the newspaper warning that “the next one to be ripped apart will be this dog Ramírez.” He said he immediately linked this to the discovery two weeks ago of two dismembered bodies. One of the victims was the cousin of a detainee who is a prosecution witness against Zevallos.

Ramírez arranged a meeting on 22 February with Dávila in the prison where he is being held in Huamanga, in the southwestern Ayacucho region, because Dávila had promised to give him information implicating Zevallos, his alleged boss. But when Ramírez arrived for the meeting, Dávila backed down and, in the presence of two prison guards, accusing him of trying to extort money.

A prosecutor, Oscar Nuñez, who was summoned to the prison, said there was no evidence to support Dávila’s accusations. Ramírez told Reporters Without Borders: “This was a trap set by the drug traffickers, I have no doubt about that.”

Ramírez has been covering Zevallos since 1995 and was already the target of death threats and extortion allegations in 2004. The former owner of the Aerocontinente airline, Zevallos is suspected of being Peru’s most powerful drug baron. The Supreme Court last year upheld his 20-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.

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