MIAMI, Florida
(May 24)-The Inter American Press Association said today it is extremely
concerned at evident incidents of harassment by Peruvian government
agencies of the Lima daily newspaper El Comercio "damaging
freedom of the press in that country."

At issue was a decision by the Peruvian Attorney Generals Office
not to halt an inquiry into alleged unlawful foreign exchange transactions
by El Comercio – despite a statute of limitations having come into
effect because the alleged action – mentioned in a television broadcast
on March 13 this year – had occurred more than 10 years ago.

The allegation was aired in the TV program "Contrapunto"
(Counterpoint). This led to a series of parallel official investigations.
While State Attorney for Foreign Exchange Control Jorge Sanz Quiroz
said the investigation would not proceed because of lack of evidence
and the expiration of the statute of limitations, another government
official – the state attorney for industry – formally insisted on
it going ahead, to which the Attorney Generals Office then agreed.

Meanwhile, the
state attorney for tax and customs duties offenses, Hilda Valladares,
decided to begin another investigation involving El Comercio, this
one based on a formal complaint lodged by two minority shareholders
in the company that publishes it, citing the broadcast allegations.
This official had taken part in the inquiry that led to Baruch Ivcher
losing his majority ownership of Limas Channel 2 TV on being stripped
of his Peruvian citizenship.

"We are
concerned at these official actions, which would seem to be designed
to undermine the role of a newspaper to provide information which
is so important for democracy in Peru, IAPA President Tony Pederson

"What worries
us is that there are precedents for questioning the integrity of
the judiciary in Peru, through the use of which the government there
has confiscated a television station, interfered and involved itself
in the handling of a number of independent news media, and most
recently has systematically subjected El Comercio to harassment,"
Pederson said.

Pederson and
the chairman of the IAPAs Committee on Freedom of the Press and
Information, Rafael Molina, recalled the resolution that the hemisphere
free-press organization had adopted at its Midyear Meeting in Cancún,
Mexico, in March this year, warning of "the grave responsibility
borne by the judicial systems judges and prosecutors who, in straying
from the state of law in a legal controversy that could affect a
newspapers ownership and editorial independence, in particular
those of El Comercio, become accomplices in actions whose core objective
is to disrupt the stability of this newspaper and compromise its

Pederson, Houston
Chronicle, Texas and Molina, El Nacional, Santo Domingo, República
Dominicana, jointly called on the Peruvian government to prevent
any political action, legal manipulation or other kind of attack
that seeks to restrict the right to freedom of expression, press
freedom and free enterprise.


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