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Radio journalists harassed, threatened for trying to record drug disposal operation

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 31 July 2008, journalist Otilio Norberto Ríos was threatened by Pomabamba's public prosecutor, Lidubina Cabrera Espinoza, when he attempted to record the transportation of a drug shipment seized by the police to a rubbish dump, where it was to be burned. The incident took place in the town of Pomabamba, Áncash region, in northwestern Peru.

The journalist, who hosts and produces the programme "El equipo de la noticia" on Radio Noticias La Caribeña, told IPYS that, as he sought to cover the event, the prosecutor insulted him and told him that filming was forbidden. When the journalist protested, Cabrera Espinoza threatened to have him detained and forbade the press to cover the burning of the drugs.

IPYS condemns the prosecutor's behaviour. There is no legal restriction in Peru to bar the press from covering the confiscation and destruction of illicit drugs. Coverage of such events is important in order to reassure the public that drug enforcement authorities are performing their duties correctly. With her threatening attitude and interference with journalists' work, the prosecutor is violating press freedom and denying the public its right to be informed.

On 1 August, Ríos sent a letter of complaint about the incident to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Duryard Jesús Guzmán, a contributor to the programme, delivered the message. He informed IPYS that, when he attempted to submit the letter, the prosecutor's aides told him that the complaint letter was "inadmissible". He also stated that the aides threatened him with death and warned him not to collaborate with journalists who work for Radio Noticias La Caribeña.

According to the journalists, the hostility of the prosecutor likely stems from her office being sent letters of protest by IPYS and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) on a previous occasion, when she refused to be interviewed by another journalist from the same radio station, Fernando Valverde. On that occasion, she rationalised her denial by saying that she would not be interviewed by a journalist who was not affiliated with the official College of Journalists, even though such affiliation is not a prerequisite to practicing journalism in Peru.

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