Peru has taken a major step forward in upholding accountability and press freedom with the conviction of Daniel Urresti, a retired army general and politician. On Thursday, Judge Juan Santillán issued the sentence in Lima as Urresti listened alongside his family, who he hugged before being taken into custody by police.
The story dates back to November 1988, when journalist Hugo Bustíos was attacked in Huanta province. A colleague of Bustíos had narrowly survived the attack, which was initially blamed on the communist militant group Shining Path. Subsequent investigation revealed government members within the military as the assassins responsible for carrying out the ambush. In 2011, the local military commander involved in the incident implicated Urresti as one of the members of the patrol that had been sent out to stop Bustios from covering news of military abuse against civilians in the region.
To arrive at the verdict, it only took a second trial; Urresti had initially been acquitted in 2018 in a verdict that was later annulled by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors had requested 25 years but declared themselves satisfied with the decision. Urresti himself has indicated his intention to appeal.
Sharmelí Bustíos, daughter of the murdered journalist, made a statement on the verdict. She told reporters, “I can tell my parents that they can finally rest in peace.” The National Association of Journalists said in a statement published on social media that the verdict was a form of restitution both for the family of Bustíos and for journalism.
The Huanta province, which is the capital of the city where this incident occurred, was a highly violent region when the plainclothes patrol sent out by the military confronted Bustíos. When interviewed about the conflict in 2015, Herminia Oré, who represents the disappeared and tortured in the same city, said that there was a climate of paranoia in Huanta at that time, “A candle lit in your house at night was a reason for the military to arrest you.”
The conviction of Daniel Urresti is a significant step towards justice and the defense of press freedom in Peru. It not only serves to provide closure to Bustíos’ family, but also sends a powerful message about the importance of upholding accountability and press freedom in the country.