Peru's Fujimori denies he's trying to gag the media

Reuters -- 22 December 1999

LIMA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - President Alberto Fujimori on Wednesday denied his government was pressuring the courts to prosecute opposition media figures amid growing concern that Peru is trying to gag the press ahead of elections.

In an unusual step, Fujimori spoke to radio reporters early on Wednesday morning after newspapers ran front page stories about a pair of court cases brought on the same day against leaders of the opposition media.

Newspapers carried reports over attempts by a judge, citing unpaid debts, to seize the printing presses of opposition daily Liberacion, which last week alleged Fujimori's top security advisor had received $2 million in suspicious payments.

The same day as the attempted seizure, judges ordered the arrest of Genero Delgado Parker, a television businessman, on charges related to financial irregularities.

In November, Delgado Parker accused the government of manipulating television stations by awarding lucrative state advertisements to pro-government programs.

``Since early morning these cases have worried me,'' Fujimori told reporters, denying that the government had tried to influence the judicial process. The cases involved purely judicial conflicts between business associates, he said.

Delgado Parker, a former owner of one of Peru's largest private TV stations, and Cesar Hildebrandt, editor of Liberacion, both accused Peru's intelligence services, headed by Vladimiro Montesinos, of manipulating the courts.

Peru's attorney general is currently investigating Montesinos following the Liberacion report about multi-million dollar deposits into a Peruvian bank account he controls from unknown sources.

Rights groups accuse the government of using the courts to harass opposition media ahead of 2000 presidential elections, when Fujimori is widely expected to run for a third term.

Peru's much criticized rights record includes the government stripping Israeli-born Baruch Ivcher of his Peruvian citizenship in 1997 after his television station broadcast allegations of corruption in the military.

According to worldwide media rights monitor Freedom House, the region's press is ``not free'' only in Peru and Cuba. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists lists the Peruvian president as one of its top 10 enemies alongside leaders such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Yugoslavia's Slobadan Milosevic.