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Persecuted journalist-in-hiding fears for his life, previously received death threats

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is concerned about the plight of Paul Garay, editor of the weekly "Del Pueblo" and contributor to Radio Stereo 92.9 in Pucallpa, Ucayali department in eastern Peru, who was forced into hiding at the end of April 2008 following death threats and a kidnap attempt.

The journalist, who is thinking of leaving the country altogether, believes the mayor of Pucallpa, already suspected of involvement in the murder of a journalist in 2004, and a former president of the Ucayali regional government are behind the attempts to intimidate him.

"A journalist forced into exile constitutes a setback for press freedom and we call for all possible steps to be taken to protect Paul Garay from reaching this point," said RSF.

"The plight of the editor of the weekly 'Del Pueblo' yet again demonstrates the unbelievable impunity enjoyed by elected officials, even though they are at odds with the law. We urge an investigation that should also send a strong signal for an end to this type of case."

Garay began receiving death threats after he wrote an article that was published on 1 April, exposing a real estate fraud that benefited Edwin Vásquez López, former president of Ucayali department. On the same day, men in the pay of the former regional official turned up at the editor's home.

"I was physically assaulted during a kidnap attempt carried out by henchmen working for the regional ex-president, Edwin Vásquez López, currently under investigation for deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon," Garay told RSF. Since then, he has been tracked down on several occasions by unidentified men. "They wanted to grab me, to kill me - there is no other possible explanation, and the police have not been able to help me," he said. "We are living in a no man's land; it's every man for himself."

Garay also described a dangerous deterioration in his relations with the mayor of Pucallpa, Luis Valdez Villacorta, whom he suspects of having ordered the murder of Alberto Rivera Fernández, of Frecuencia Oriental radio, who was shot dead in Pucallpa on 21 April 2004. Valdez Villacorta was acquitted by a court in Ucayali. The Supreme Court, however, has said it plans to quash the verdict. Garay also exposed the implication of the mayor of Pucallpa in a case of embezzlement of municipal funds intended for a food aid programme for children.

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