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Government approves legislative decree limiting press coverage

(IPYS/IFEX) - Using powers established to permit the modification of anti-terrorist legislation, the government has approved Legislative Decree No. 922-2003, which restricts journalists' ability to cover criminal trials.

The decree was promulgated by President Alejandro Toledo. It was published, along with seven other security laws, in the government newspaper "El Peruano" on 12 February 2003. Article 12 of the decree stipulates that: "Oral hearings for the crime of terrorism will be public. The public and media outlets will have access to the courtroom. However, the use of video cameras, tape recorders, cameras and similar technology is prohibited."

Congress Vice-Chair Natale Amprimo Pla justified the measure, saying it aims "to prevent the accused from capitalising on live transmissions and gaining a personal advantage." According to the member of congress, the decree does not violate press freedom since the media will be present at trials and will be able to report on them afterward. Amprimo Pla did note, however, that he would have preferred that the power to authorise or prohibit the use of cameras in the courts be granted to judges, rather than the executive.

Former ombudsman Jorge Santistevan de Noriega pointed out that according to Article 215 of the Criminal Code, it is the presiding judges' role to determine whether or not it is necessary to place limitations on the use of cameras in criminal trials.

"This restriction cannot be imposed by law," said Santistevan. "It should continue to be decided according to the judge's discretion. Media outlets should be asked to act responsibly, and certain limitations may be appropriate, but they should not be established by law, because that opens the way to censorship."

Criminal lawyer Carlos Caro, who specialises in freedom of expression issues, told IPYS that the decree threatens the constitutional right to access information, since it removes the court's power to decide on the presence or absence of recording equipment. The decree, said Caro, presumes that in the presence of cameras or tape recorders the criminal process would not proceed normally. Moreover, it excludes the use of such equipment without prior knowledge of what information will be presented during trials. It therefore contravenes Article 2 of the Constitution, which prohibits prior censorship, Caro noted. Electronic equipment, Caro pointed out, allows for the faithful recording of what transpires in trials.

Caro told IPYS that according to Article 139 of the Constitution, criminal trials must be public, although the courts are permitted to make exceptions for reasons of security or to protect fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy in trials of sexual crimes.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:
- asking that the decree be made to conform with the Constitution, limiting its application only to cases where it is established that the use of electronic media could jeopardise the aims of the criminal process

Appeals To

Alejandro Toledo Manrique
President of the Republic
Fax: +51 1 427 6722 / 426 6535

Dr. Luis Solari De la Fuente
Ministers' Council Chair
Fax: +51 1 447 1628 / 475 0689

Dr. Fausto Alvarado Dodero
Justice Minister
Fax: +51 1 422 3577

Dr. Carlos Ferrero Costa
Congress Chair
Fax: +51 1 426 8290

Dr. Hugo Sivina Hurtado
Supreme Court Chair
Fax: +51 1 427 0984

Dr. Walter Albán Peralta
Fax: +51 1 426 6657

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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