A former Peruvian presidential candidate, Daniel Urresti, has been sentenced to 12 years in jail for his role in the murder of a journalist in 1988 at the height of the country’s brutal civil conflict.
A court ruled on Thursday that Urresti, then a military intelligence army officer, took part in the ambush and murder of Hugo Bustíos, who was investigating human rights abuses.
As the sentence was read, Urresti listened along with his wife and daughter, whom he hugged before being taken into custody by the police. Lawyers for the politician and former interior minister said they would appeal the verdict. Prosecutors had requested 25 years, but said they were satisfied with the decision.
Hugo Bustíos was a reporter for the weekly magazine Caretas in the Andean region of Ayacucho at the centre of the armed conflict in the 1980s and 90s. The journalist reported on human rights abuses committed both by the Shining Path rebels and the armed forces in the region, the worst hit by the political violence which left nearly 70,000 people dead or disappeared, according to Peru’s truth and reconciliation commission.
Bustíos was shot at with machine guns by a group of plainclothes soldiers while riding a motorbike, forcing him to lose control and crash. His companion, another journalist who had been riding pillion, managed to escape. As Bustíos lay gravely wounded, prosecutors said, soldiers detonated explosives on his body, killing him.
Urresti was accused by two fellow officers from his military base who had been convicted of ordering the journalist’s murder in 2007. They claim Urresti, then a captain in charge of intelligence, took part in the ambush in which Bustíos was killed in November 1988.
In 2018, Urresti was cleared of any involvement in the journalist’s murder when he was a front-running candidate to be mayor of Lima, an election which he narrowly lost.
But Peru’s supreme court overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial, which following a lengthy hearing led to his conviction for murder in the early hours of Thursday.
The judges also ruled that Bustíos’ murder had been premeditated.
In a combative political career, Urresti served as Peru’s interior minister between 2014 and 2015, ran twice for the presidency, in 2016 and 2021, as well as the mayoral office of Lima, in 2018 and 2022. He lost the latter by less than a percentage point to the ultra-conservative millionaire Rafael López Aliaga. Throughout, he courted notoriety for his social media attacks on politicians while brushing off accusations that police used excessive force against protesters.
Despite backing for his populist law-and-order platform, the former army general’s political career has been overshadowed by allegations he took part in Bustíos’ brutal murder.
Sharmelí Bustíos, the eldest daughter of the murdered journalist, welcomed the ruling, saying in a tweet that she could finally light a candle for her parents and tell them: “Justice has been done, 34 years later. The road has been hard and painful. Today all that remains is to give thanks.”
Peru’s National Association of Journalists said on Twitter that the verdict represented redress for the Bustíos family and an “important step towards justice and the defense of press freedom in Peru”.