Report to the Midyear Meeting 2019
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
In the last six months there were new attacks and threats against journalists covering events of public interest, which highlights the need to strengthen alert and protection mechanisms for journalists. There were also new cases of judicial harassment against journalists, with the apparent complicity of members of the justice system. At the normative level, constitutional protection mechanisms and the timely reaction of civil society organizations have prevented the advancement of an "anti-press" legislative agenda.

In a context where organized crime, common crime and corruption occupy the headlines and the protection mechanisms for journalists show severe deficiencies, the exercise of the profession is a high-risk endeavor, especially at the regional level, where cases of physical aggression and threats continue - as in San Martín and Madre de Dios, where mafias as powerful as those of illegal mining, drug trafficking and human trafficking prevail.

In a climate of marked political instability in the country - a direct consequence of corruption cases involving judges, prosecutors, politicians and businessmen, the role of the press has been crucial. This has had its consequences: an "anti-press" legislative agenda promoted by parliament, and accompanied by a stigmatization campaign to discredit the independent media and journalists. However, these effects have been mitigated by the reaction of the civil society and the mechanisms of constitutional protection and political control.

At the same time, there is a lack of political will regarding transparency and access to public information, which has led to the shelving of bills that seek to strengthen the National Transparency Authority.

In recent months, there have been new judicial proceedings against journalists as a direct consequence of the investigative work they do, the most well-known being the case against journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas for their work on the alleged cases of abuse committed by members of the Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana.

Other important developments:

On October 9, Esther Saavedra - a congresswoman from the Popular Force party, attacked Edgar Alarcón - a journalist from El Poder newspaper, in a court room in the city of Tarapoto, in the San Martín region. Alarcón was covering the judicial proceedings in which the congresswoman was testifying in connection with an investigation for the alleged presentation of false documents to Congress to support her studies.

A video of the attack also shows several police officers trying to arrest the journalist. Alarcón was taken to a patrol car, amid complaints from those who demanded the presence of a prosecutor to verify the reasons why they were arresting him.

On December 20, journalist Manuel Calloquispe, correspondent for Latina and El Comercio in the Madre de Dios region, received death threats from a family member of an alleged gang leader while covering a trial involving preventive imprisonment for members of the gang.

The Bishop of Piura, José Antonio Eguren, sued journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz - who investigated the abuses committed in the Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana, for alleged aggravated defamation. In the suit he asks for civil reparation of S/ 200 thousand and the penalty of three years ineffective prison. Journalists have expressed concern that due process may be undermined by the bishop's influence in the region. The trial is in Piura - the diocese to which the bishop belongs, although the journalists' home is in Lima. The Superior Court of Justice of Piura refused to transfer the lawsuit to Lima.

Since the beginning of the current legislature (2016-2021), there have been normative projects that threaten the freedom of the press. The most symbolic case was the so-called "Gag Law", which sought to prohibit public entities from entering into advertising contracts with private media. It was presented in November 2017 by initiative of Congressman Mauricio Mulder, and passed at the insistence of parliament, despite comments against it by the Executive, and the rejection of organizations and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR - which considered it discriminatory.

Then the Constitutional Court ruled its unconstitutionality - with six votes in favor and one against, for violating fundamental rights such as the right of citizens to access public information.

Another bill regulating state advertising is being debated in the Congressional Transport and Communications Commission. In December, the Commission called on representatives of trade unions and the civil society to express their opinions.

Various civil society organizations expressed their support for the legislative proposal of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which empowers and grants autonomy and independence to the National Transparency Authority, in order to resolve the controversies regarding Access to Public Information and Protection of Personal Data. The proposal also grants powers to declassify information that remains unduly hidden from public opinion. The law has not yet been approved.

Peru's Supreme Court will ultimately decide on an appeal for annulment of the October ruling that acquitted Daniel Urresti, one of the alleged direct perpetrators of the murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos Saavedra - perpetrated 30 years ago. Several organizations have demanded that the evidence be evaluated in accordance with international standards. The Public Prosecutor's Office has requested the revocation of the acquittal in favor of former minister Daniel Urresti, who was exonerated by the National Criminal Court. They allege that there are procedural flaws and inadequate evaluation of the testimonial evidence which implicates Urresti in the journalist's murder. In the testimonies, Urresti is identified as "Captain Arturo" present at the scene of the crime.

The protection request filed by eight journalists in November 2013 (Exp. 35583-2013 4to Juzgado Constitucional de Lima) against Empresa Editora El Comercio and others, for the alleged violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of access to plural information - regarding the acquisition of shares of Empresa Periodística Nacional (today Prensmart), remains pending in the first instance of the Peruvian Judiciary, despite being ready for sentence since October 2018.

In this regard, the IAPA has expressed its invocation in several resolutions (2013 and 2016 general assemblies), its demand (2017 and 2018 mid-year meetings) and its urgency (2017 general assembly); so that the Judicial Branch may resolve this request for the protection of constitutional rights - whose processing is prioritized by law and is subject to very limited timeframes.