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Congress pledges to make legislature comply with Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 6 November 2008 IAPA press release:

LIMA, Peru (November 6, 2008) - Peruvian Congress President Javier Velásquez Quesquén pledged to put the power of his office behind efforts to make the legislature comply with current legislation regarding access to public information during a forum here organized by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the Peruvian Press Council (CPP).

During the forum, held in the Congress chambers before a packed audience, national congressmen representing various political parties signed the Declaration of Chapultepec, a document which, IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón said, "serves as a constant reminder of the inalienable right of people to seek and receive information, to express opinions and circulate them freely, and the obligation of the authorities to guarantee and foster such freedoms."

In the discussions during the day-long event centering on violence against the press and access to public information, Velásquez Quesquén declared, "We agree with the recommendations of the CPP and have posted information about all the requests on our Web site and within the next few hours, details on staff contacts and operating budget questions will be added."

Velásquez was responding to a long-held criticism by the CPP, voiced at the IAPA's recent General Assembly in Madrid, Spain, that since January 2003, when it went into effect, Congress has not observed the requirements of Peru's Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information. The issue was raised during one of the forum's panel discussions by Enrique Zileri, editor of the Lima magazine "Caretas."

In that roundtable, in which Congress Vice President Fabiola Morales Castillo also took part and which was moderated by Alejandro Miró Quesada, there was an interesting debate about information of public interest and the obligations of the press regarding the publication of sensitive information that could endanger national security or a person's reputation. The discussion arose from a current issue in which the Peruvian press published information of public interest, gathered in wiretaps and relayed anonymously to newsrooms. The publication of this information about public corruption resulted in an almost total reshuffle of President Alan García's cabinet.

Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper "El Tiempo," speaking during the second panel discussion, raised the issue of crimes against journalists and called on the various branches of the Peruvian government to pass legislation to put an end to impunity, stiffen penalties for such crimes of violence, lengthen the term limits of statutes of limitations, and set up a special jurisdiction to deal with those offenses. Santos said that the IAPA was calling for such action not only in crimes against journalists but those against any persons that suffered reprisals for their right to free speech, whether they be labor union members, judges, academics, public officials or citizens. Justice Deputy Minister Erasmo Reyna Alcántara declared, "Offenses committed against a news outlet or one engaged in the press merit a specialized, timely, effective and transparent response from the justice system."

Congressman Raúl Castro Stagnaro of the Justice Commission added that while the establishment of a specialized jurisprudence should be looked into more deeply to avoid any exclusions, "what is needed is to implement a series of legislative initiatives to set stiff penalties for the guilty."

Finally, IAPA Press Institute President Gustavo Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper "La República," who was in charge of drafting the conclusions of the event, said that "there was a common denominator among all the members of Congress, of the branches of government, experts and members of the press that we are all in favor of dialogue, freedom of the press and democracy - certainly a good starting point."

Also taking part in the event were the CPP President Luis Agois Banchero and Director Kela León, and IAPA Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti.

To read the full report, see: http://tinyurl.com/6357we

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