This report was written before the dissolution of Congress by President Martín Vizcarra. During this period, there were three main fronts of aggression against freedom of expression of citizens, media and journalists: the legislative system, lawsuits for libel and judicial impunity.
The Congress of the Republic has sought to undermine freedom of expression through bills such as the one restricting state advertising in private media, requiring compulsory unionization of journalists and increasing prison sentences for libel.
Libel lawsuits were a used as a tool to silence citizens, media and journalists by people involved in cases of corruption or abuse of power.
A draft bill proposes to extend the prison sentence for libel from a current maximum of three years to a sentence of between four and seven years. If adopted, libel would be punishable by prison in all cases. The congressman who proposed this bill is the same one who proposed compulsory unionization. This bill specifies that the penalty will also apply to cases of libel on social networks, which is repetitious, as the Penal Code already provides that libel applies to media, which includes social networks. The initiative has erroneously stated that it will only regulate libel on social networks, when it will also affect the media.
At the same time, a bill was introduced to decriminalize crimes against honor, including those committed through parodies, satires and opinion. It suggests replacing prison sentences with economic penalties. It also includes - for libel cases - the proof of truth, in which the offender will be relieved from punishment by proving the veracity of the allegations, or by having done everything possible to reach it. It proposes pre-trial and judicial procedures for the right to reply and the right to rectification in order to clarify the actions to be taken.
The 'anti-press' legislative agenda has been strengthened in Congress in response to journalistic investigative work on the corruption cases of Lava Jato and Lava Juez which have led to fiscal investigations and even jail terms for several prominent politicians and judges. In this scenario, political scientist Alberto Vergara has considered that the press "has mainly taken the chance for the Rule of Law in a way that, I confess, I never thought I would see in Peru." (El Comercio, 2019). In retaliation, bills were presented aimed at gagging journalists - who were subsequently neutralized.
One of them was a bill to prohibit newspaper directors, editors, producers, general managers, shareholders or other such persons from exercising their functions in a media outlet if they had a final conviction for corruption detrimental to the State.
The proposal for a law on state advertising is still on track. After the Constitutional Court concluded that the initial proposal - which prohibited state advertising in private media - was unconstitutional, another ruling was worked out and was finally approved by the Congressional Transport and Communications Commission in May 2019, which no longer prohibits state advertising in private media. The current ruling recognizes two main points favorable to freedom of expression: it prioritizes private media as recipients of state advertising and recognizes in the subject matter of the law "the citizen's right to be informed."
Conditions are established so that the contracting of state advertising responds to specific needs, and is directed to media according to their outreach and target audience. However, doubts remain regarding the obligatory nature of the media to have a valid authorization by the Ministry of Transport and Communications - since this can be used as intimidation - and that those who have debts with the State may not be chosen to engage in state advertising.
In September, the Congressional Oversight Committee created a group to investigate local pollsters. The investigations will last sixty days and will deal with "the methodology and actions" of the pollsters and "possible cases of propagandistic manipulation." One of the members of that committee, pro-Fujimori Congressman Héctor Becerril, said the polls "are not subjected to any regulation." This came after various polls reflected the low approval of Congress (below 10%) and the high approval for in advance elections proposed by President Martin Vizcarra.
In the area of transparency and access to public information the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has - since the end of 2018 - promoted the creation and formation of various entities such as the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Public Information and the Tribunal for Transparency and Access to Public Information, the last at the national level. In 2018 the three members of the First Chamber of the Court were presented, and in mid-2019 the selection of members of the Second Chamber began.
During this period there have also been numerous cases of intimidation against journalists and the media.
The Ribereña Radio, Últimas Noticias and La Mega media reported that municipal officials from the district of Guadalupe, in the northern region of La Libertad, prevented them from attending council sessions in January. The only journalists allowed are those from the municipality's institutional image office.
In March, a court secretary sued Rosa Chambergo (Expresión) for libel after she published an article about an alleged forgery of documents so that the secretary's son could obtain a new identity.
In April, a judge in the northern city of Piura sentenced journalist Pedro Salinas to a one year's suspended prison term and to pay S/.80,000 in civil reparations (about US$25,000) to the archbishop of Piura y Tumbes, José Antonio Eguren, who had personally sued him for alleged libel aggravated by statements made by the journalist in an article and in an interview in January, 2018, according to the archbishop himself. Eguren then withdrew the complaint against Salinas. Previously, Salinas and journalist Paola Ugaz published the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers (2015) in which they investigated sexual abuse in the religious group Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, to which Eguren belongs, although the archbishop has pointed out that this book is not part of the complaint.
In April, the Judiciary admitted a new libel suit filed by Miguel Arévalo Ramírez against journalists Oscar Castilla (Ojo-Público.com) and Edmundo Cruz (La República) and ordered the preventive seizure of the assets of both media. The journalists investigated the relationship between Arévalo, alias 'Eteco', and drug trafficking, using contrasting sources, including those from the US Drug Enforcement Administration. (DEA). Other journalists included in the lawsuit are César Hildebrandt, Eloy Marchan, Américo Zambrano (Hildebrandt en sus trece); Gustavo Mohme (La República); Marco Zileri and César Pardo (Caretas); and Miguel Ramírez (El Comercio). In May, the Judicial Branch shelved two lawsuits against the journalists, but upheld the embargo order. In August, the journalists attended a new hearing in which the final arguments of both parties were presented. The judge announced that the final ruling will be issued soon.
In April, the Judiciary ordered a new trial against retired general, former minister and former Lima mayoral candidate Daniel Urresti for his alleged participation in the murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos (Caretas) in 1988 during the era of terrorism in Peru - after 31 years of impunity. In October 2018, Urresti was acquitted of the alleged co-perpetration of the journalist's murder.
In May, a libel suit was filed against journalist Yofre López (Barranca.pe) in the province of Barranca, north of Lima. Judge Juana Caballero sued him after the journalist questioned her decision to revoke the pretrial detention of the former mayor of Barranca accused of corruption and for publishing a sworn statement by the judge showing her patrimony. She has requested three years in prison and a civil reparation of S/.100,000 (about US$30,000).
In August, the lawyer of former president Ollanta Humala - investigated for corruption in the Lava Jato case - said he will summon media executives as witnesses in an eventual trial against Humala. Humala is being investigated for money laundering for allegedly having received Odebrecht campaign contributions from the illegal 'Box 2'. "Almost 85% was spent on advertising on TV and newspapers. If the fiscal hypothesis is that money was laundered...", said the lawyer.
On several occasions there have been protests and sit-ins at the headquarters of IDL-Reporters and against journalist Gustavo Gorriti - one of the main leaders in the investigation against corruption cases. Groups - including Fujimori supporters - have protested in front of the newspaper and accused the journalist of being a "terrorist." Similar protests also occurred in front of the newspapers El Comercio and La República.
After 35 years, the murder of journalist Jaime Ayala (La República) remains unpunished. He disappeared while inside a Peruvian Navy base after filing a complaint for the search of his mother's house during the era of terrorism. Ayala entered the Navy base, but never came out. Several witnesses - including former sailors - have testified that Ayala was tortured and killed.
Also unpunished is the case of journalist David Choquepata, killed in 2016 at his own radio booth. The prosecutor's office has shelved the investigation of this crime.
The Epensa Group has eight open lawsuits for libel with cases going back to 2015 totaling almost S/.2 million (US$600,000).
At the beginning of September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights notified the government that the institution was processing a lawsuit filed by eight journalists on September 10, 2015 against the concentration of media outlets, and granted the state a period of three months to submit its observations.
At the end of September, Pedro Olaechea - president of Congress - requested that "private conversations not be recorded and published" in the media, in reference to a recording of a conversation between four congressmen during the election of judges to Peru's Constitutional Court.