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Death threats and attempted frame-up of journalist linked to his investigation of drug lord Fernando Zevallos

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has appealed for more vigilance from the authorities, especially the Interior Ministry, following telephoned death threats against Miguel Ramírez of the Lima-based daily "El Comercio". Ramírez was also accused of "extortion" on 22 February 2008 by Luis Dávila, a detainee charged with drug trafficking who is believed to be in the pay of convicted drug kingpin Fernando Zevallos.

"Ramírez has been covering the activities of Fernando Zevallos for more than 10 years and the fact that Zevallos is currently in prison does not prevent his networks from operating," RSF said.

"It is dangerous for journalists to cover drug trafficking. Ramírez's situation and that of the entire 'El Comercio' staff require more vigilance from the relevant authorities," RSF added. "We also hope the judicial authorities will quickly shed light on these extortion allegations, which were clearly made with the aim of discrediting Ramírez."

Referring to drug traffickers in a 27 February telephone conversation with RSF, Ramírez said, "I have for some time had the feeling that they have begun watching me again." On 22 February, two calls were received at the newspaper warning that "the next one to be ripped apart will be this dog Ramírez." The journalist said he immediately linked this to the discovery two weeks prior of two dismembered bodies. One of the victims was the cousin of a detainee who is a prosecution witness against Zevallos.

Ramírez arranged a meeting on 22 February with Dávila in the prison where he is being held in Huamanga, Ayacucho region, southwestern Peru, because Dávila had promised to give him information implicating Zevallos, his alleged boss. But when Ramírez arrived for the meeting, Dávila backed down and, in the presence of two prison guards, accused him of trying to extort money.

A prosecutor, Oscar Nuñez, who was summoned to the prison, said there was no evidence to support Dávila's accusations. Ramírez told RSF: "This was a trap set by the drug traffickers, I have no doubt about that."

Ramírez has been covering Zevallos since 1995 and was already the target of death threats and extortion allegations in 2004. The former owner of the Aerocontinente airline, Zevallos is suspected of being Peru's most powerful drug baron. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld his 20-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.

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