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Ruling acquits alleged masterminds of journalist's murder

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, February 9, 2010 - In a controversial ruling, a Peruvian tribunal acquitted on Monday two alleged masterminds in the 2004 murder of radio reporter Alberto Rivera Fernández, the local press reported. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Peruvian judicial authorities to review the ruling and ensure that all those responsible for killing Rivera are brought to justice.

Luis Valdez and Solio Ramírez, two former public officials in the town of Coronel Portillo, Loreto Department, were acquitted of plotting Rivera's killing after the Lima Superior Court found there was insufficient evidence to convict them of "instigating murder" under the criminal code, the Peruvian press reported. The district attorney's office had requested the tribunal sentence the accused to 20 years in prison.

"This verdict is a disappointment to many in the Peruvian media who see it as a signal that crimes against journalists will go unpunished," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. "We call on the appeals court to overturn this decision and ensure a retrial that will hear all evidence."

Rivera's family filed a petition of annulment before the Peruvian Supreme Court of Justice today, the family's lawyer, Carlos Rivera, told CPJ. If the Supreme Court accepts the request, Valdez and Ramírez could face a new trial, the lawyer said. The district attorney filed another petition to annul the ruling on Monday, Carlos Rivera said. The Supreme Court can annul the judicial proceedings by the lower court.

According to the lawyer, the evidence presented during the trial showed a clear link between Valdez and Ramírez and the plot to kill Rivera. Witness accounts, especially those from two convicted felons in the crime, provided strong evidence against the former officials, Rivera said. The tribunal of three judges alleged that the convicted killers had changed their versions of the facts on several occasions.

On April 12, 2004, two unidentified gunmen shot Rivera to death at the glass store the journalist owned in the city of Pucallpa, Department of Ucayali. He had hosted the morning show "Transparencia" (Transparency), broadcast daily on Frecuencia Oriental radio station. Rivera was an outspoken and controversial radio commentator known for his sharp criticism of local and regional authorities. He had accused then-Mayor Valdez of corruption in the sale of land occupied by squatters.

In November 2007, the Superior Court of Ucayali sentenced Lito Fasabi, aka Chino Lito, to 35 years for killing Rivera, and Alex Panduro Ventura, aka Trolón, to 20 years for acting as an intermediary between the killer and the mastermind. According to media reports, both Fasabi and Panduro said that Valdez and Ramírez were the masterminds behind Rivera's murder.

Valdez is the former mayor of Coronel Portillo, and Ramirez is a former municipal official. Valdez is also facing money laundering charges, the Peruvian media reported.
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