Impunity persists two years after the killing of journalists in Bolivia

  • By
  • February 19, 2014

By Maria Hendrischke

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the fact that two years after the killing of brother-and-sister journalists Verónica and Víctor Hugo Peñasco, Bolivia’s justice system still has not tried anyone for the murder, even though the prosecution originally arrested ten suspects.

According to RSF, a hearing scheduled for Feb. 11 that would have determined whether Juan Monroy Dueñas and Félix Fernando Yupanqui Condori, the two main suspects in the case, would stand trial was suspended for an undisclosed reason. Bolivian news outlet La Razón reports that the hearing was canceled because the accused had not been notified of the appointment. It was rescheduled for Feb. 25, which is exactly two years after the journalists were killed.

In the hearing, Judge Dina Larrea will decide if Dueñas  and Yupanqui will be cleared from charges due to a lack of evidence.

On Jan. 30, Prosecutor Eva Mujica released both men and two other suspects, Adalid and Calisaya Mamani, from preventive detention since “they aren’t mentioned by the attorney general in the formal indictment,” said Yupanqui's lawyer Guillermo Llacs in an interview with the Bolivian daily Página Siete. Llacs also said his clients are innocent and the actual murderers are still free.

“It is unacceptable that suspects have been released before the investigation has been completed and before the motive has been established,” says RSF. According to Página Siete, three of the seven suspects still under investigation remain in detention.

The two Bolivian journalists were strangled to death in El Alto, a municipality near the capital city of La Paz. They were last seen alive, riding a bus to work, during the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 2012. Verónica Peñasco was the director of Radio San Gabriel and hosted a program on the Bolivian television channel Canal 7. Her younger brother, Víctor Hugo, was an anchorman at Radio Pachaqamasa.

A week after the incident, the Bolivian authorities arrested the main suspects Dueñas and Yupanqui, says RSF. But almost two years after the crime, and despite that Bolivia’s Criminal Justice Code says that investigations should take no longer than 18 months, the case is still unresolved. Investigator Edgar Ramos says, “there is withholding of information, a lack of transparency, there have been accusations that suspects are receiving preferential treatment by some individuals." 

The 2013 Annual IFEX Report on Impunity highlights the crimes against the press in Bolivia and the general “climate of violence.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales has criticized the press for distorting information and said that attacks on journalists were merely reactions to lies. However, he recently approved a law that gives journalists life insurance. After the murder of the Peñasco siblings, Bolivia also approved a decree that ensures safe transportation for journalists working at night.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.