Advocate says jailing of journalist sets bad example for Latin America

Thursday, August 11, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A leading defender of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere said Wed-nesday he is concerned that the imprisonment of reporter Judith Miller could set a "terrible example" for the cause of press freedom in Latin America.

Alejo Miro Quesada, a Peruvian who is head of the Inter-American Press Association, said, "No journalist should be forced to disclose his sources of information."

He said that this has been a guiding principle of the IAPA, a free press advocacy group.

Miro Quesada, president of the Peruvian daily El Comercio, was leading an IAPA delegation that planned to meet with Miller at the Alexandria Detention Center in suburban Virginia, where she has been since July 6.

The delegation hoped to tell Miller she was sending an important message to Latin Americans by refusing to disclose her sources in the Valerie Plame case.

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who questioned in 2003 whether the administration had manipulated intelligence to justify its Iraq policies.

Wilson contends the administration leaked his wife's identity as a CIA officer to the media in retribution for his stance on the Iraq war.

According to reporters and others familiar with the case, several government officials mentioned Wilson's wife in conversations with the media, including Karl Rove, President Bush's chief of staff.

Miller has been jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury that is looking into the leaks, though she never wrote a story about Plame.

Ricardo Trotti, director of IAPA's Press Institute, said, "If the principle of free expression is defended in the United States, it will help the free press in Latin America."

The group also planned a meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to hear his thoughts on a proposal for a federal shield law that would protect journalists who refuse to reveal their sources to prosecutors.

Also here as part of the IAEA delegation are Gonzalo Marroquin, director of Prensa Libre of Guatemala and chairman of IAPA's Freedom of the Press Committee; Diana Daniels of The Washington Post and IAPA vice president Julio Munoz, executive director of IAPA.

Late last month, a delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists met with Miller at the Detention Center to deliver a message of support and call for an immediate end to her imprisonment.

Paul Steiger, CPJ chairman and Wall Street Journal managing editor, headed the delegation. He said after the meeting, "There's no good purpose in keeping this dedicated, honorable, committed professional in jail."

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