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IAPA acclaims guilty verdicts in murders of journalists in various countries

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 21 December 2007 IAPA press release:

IAPA acclaims guilty verdicts in murders of journalists in Costa Rica, Haiti, Mexico and Dominican Republic

It also calls attention to efforts in Peru to turn around a court decision that absolved presumed masterminds of the Alberto Rivera crime.

MIAMI, Florida (December 21, 2007) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed the recent convictions of criminals charged with the murders of journalists in Costa Rica, Haiti, Mexico and Dominican Republic and a legal move to overturn the acquittal of two others in Peru.

IAPA President Earl Maucker said he was thrilled at the developments adding that "the fact that a number of journalists' murderers will end the year in prison is a good omen for 2008." He added, "Combating impunity is critical to prevent further violent assaults."

On Wednesday, a court in Costa Rica set down sentences in the July 7, 2001 murder of radio reporter Parmenio Medina. Businessman Omar Cháves was found guilty of masterminding the crime and sentenced to 30 years in prison, while Luis Alberto Aguirre Jaime was given a 30-year sentence for carrying out the killing. Catholic priest Minor Calvo, who was tried as an alleged instigator, was acquitted on a homicide charge but sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for defrauding his parishioners ? an accusation Medina had been making in his radio program "La Patada" (The Kick) broadcast by Radio Monumental. Six other defendants were found not guilty.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, declared, "Despite the length of time it took to bring the murder case to trial it is more significant that the crime has not gone unpunished and it was found to be in reprisal. This case underlines the bravery of a great many journalists who, like Parmenio, assume risks unmask the corruption plaguing society."

On December 19, the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic gave its final ruling on the murder case of Ahora magazine journalist Luis Orlando Martinez following 32 years of burial in court files and 10 years after the process was opened. The decision raised from 20 to 30 years the prison term for Joaquin Antonio Pou Castro after finding that he was a co-mastermind rather than accomplice in the crime. It also confirmed the 30 year term for Mariano Cabrera Durán y Rabel Lluberes Ricard. Luis Emilio de la Rosa Veras was released from prison last April after completing a 10 year term.

In Mexico on Tuesday a court convicted the killer of Aldolfo Sánchez Guzmán - a reporter for Xhora Stereo radio and a stringer for the Web sites and Orizaba en Vivo - murdered in Nogales, Veracruz, on November 30, 2006. The defendant, Juan Carlos Rosas Palestino, was sentenced to 23 years in prison and ordered to pay reparations to the victim's family.

In Haiti on December 12 guilty verdicts were handed down against Joubert Saint-Juste and Jean-Rémy Démosthène. They were given life sentences for the December 3, 2000 murder of Brignol Lindor, a Radio Echo 2000 reporter, in the city of Petit-Goâve. Two others were acquitted and six accused remain at large.

Figures compiled by the IAPA show that a total of 323 journalists have been murdered in the Western Hemisphere since 1987, among them seven who disappeared and are presumed dead, as well as three Mexican newsvendors. The IAPA has observed an increase in court actions in recent years with the result that 87 persons accused of killing journalists have been found guilty and sent to prison.

In another development, the IAPA welcomed a recent decision by Peru's Judiciary Control Office (OCMA in its Spanish acronym) to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the acquittal by a lower court of Pucallpa Mayor Luis Valdez Villacorta and Judge Solio Ramírez Garay on charges of having masterminded the murder of local journalist Alberto Rivera.

The OCMA claims the Ucayali District Criminal Court had violated rules governing deadlines for bringing cases to trial. It added it would continue to look into apparent irregularities in the legal process, among them delays in obtaining statements and gathering evidence during the investigative stage.

Riva was murdered on April 21, 2004. The IAPA and the Peruvian Press Council sent a number of international investigative missions to Pucallpa before and during the trial. The two organizations joined to draft the Declaration of Pucallpa, a document committing news media and individual journalists to keep a close watch on this and other cases and to devise means of preventing other murders and bringing the guilty to justice.

The IAPA Project Against Impunity is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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