11 October 2006

Alert

Journalist receives death threats from soldiers "nostalgic for the military dictatorship"


Incident details

Alfonso Lessa

death threat

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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns death threats sent by e-mail the first week of October 2006 to freelance journalist Alfonso Lessa by a person calling himself a "soldier in active service" who took issue with what Lessa has said about the army. Lessa writes for the Montevideo-based daily "El País" and also works with Canal 12 television station.

"These threats must be taken seriously," RSF said. "Lessa is a recognised specialist on the period of the military dictatorship, which left open wounds in the Uruguayan society. It is no coincidence that the threats have followed the first convictions of military and police personnel for grave human rights violations during the dictatorship's worst years. It is dangerous to tackle this subject."

RSF added, "It is unfortunately not clear that all members of the military are ready to face the truth about the past. The investigation into these threats must not stop at the gates to the military barracks."

The author of the two threatening e-mails identified himself as a "low-ranking officer." One of the messages accused Lessa, who has written several books about the 1973-1985 dictatorship, of lying when he said junior officers wanted superiors who had committed crimes against humanity to be brought to trial in order to lift from the armed forces the burden of its past.

The Uruguayan Press Association (APU), which revealed the existence of the threats, said they came from "military officers who were nostalgic for the dictatorship."

The threats against Lessa came after a group of eight police and military officers were convicted by Judge Luis Charles of human rights violations during the dictatorship and were imprisoned. The judge also ordered a criminal investigation into several armed forces commanders and Retired General Gregorio Álvarez, who ruled as military-backed president from 1981 until the return of democracy in 1985.

A debate is currently raging as to whether these unprecedented judicial initiatives violate the so-called "Ley de Caducidad," a law protecting the armed forces from any prosecution, which Parliament passed in 1986 and which was approved by public referendum in 1986, for the sake of civil peace. Lessa has argued in interviews that the law was designed to ensure a smooth transition to democracy but does not imply that justice cannot be done now.



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