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Six broadcasters in Chimbote off air following raids and equipment seizures allegedly in reprisal for coverage of popular mobilizations

(AMARC/IFEX) - On 18 April 2007, radio stations Ancash, Amistad and Miramar, and television stations Canal 15, Canal 27 and Canal 55, were raided and their equipment seized by order of Judge Frey Tolentino Cruz, of the Fifth Criminal Court of the Superior Court of Santa (Quinto Juzgado Penal de la Corte Superior de Justicia del Santa), acting on a complaint by the transportation and communications ministry (Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones, MTC).

Journalists and others in Chimbote believe this action is an attack on free expression and have mobilized against it. They accuse President Alan García's government of retaliating against these media outlets for their news coverage of the popular mobilizations in Chimbote, during which two people died and several were wounded.

During a protest at the Superior Court, César Yarleque, from the now-closed Canal 15 television station, said the raids and seizures were "in reprisal for our coverage of the regional strike (in Ancash). It's a clear attempt to gag us. The press was there to record and broadcast the public's just demands."

Victor Rodríguez, president of the Chimbote Journalists' Federation (Federación de Periodistas de Chimbote) echoed that perception, asserting that the action was "a serious attack on freedom of expression and opinion"; he accused the government of closing down the radio stations because they had been impartial during the mobilisations and reported that members of the governing party - the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) - had "created disturbances and violence."

The transportation and communications ministry argues that these six media outlets were not complying with the Radio and Television Law, alleging that in some cases their licences had expired and in others their equipment did not meet certain standards.

AMARC has previously indicated that the Peruvian government abuses its authority to administer broadcasting frequencies and thereby negatively affects freedom of expression. This is true in the case of community radio stations; the Radio and Television Law of 2004 recognised these media outlets, but nearly three years after that law came into effect, not one community station has been granted a licence.

Aside from making it impossible for these stations to operate within the law, the government has initiated criminal proceedings against the stations' operators, which may result in prison terms of up to six years. In 2006 the Criminal Code was amended to make broadcasting without a licence a criminal offence, but appropriate mechanisms to legally set up such media outlets are still not defined.

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