Peru

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Report to the Midyear Meeting
April, 19-22 2022
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The situation of freedom of speech and press is at its worst moment in the last two decades. Now it is not only the traditional sources of aggression, such as Congress and the Judiciary, but also, and especially, the Executive Branch. Add to this the Attorney General's Office, which has launched investigations against journalists for the mere fact of informing, in addition to persecuting journalists and citizens for their political positions during the 2021 presidential elections.

The Vigilantes platform - led by Transparencia and integrated by civil society organizations such as the Peruvian Press Council (CPP) to monitor the performance of the rule of law and democracy in the government of Pedro Castillo - has pointed out that out of the seven points it evaluates in terms of freedom of expression and press, four are considered to be on very serious alert: guaranteeing and strengthening the independence of the Peruvian Institute of Radio and Television; guaranteeing transparency and publication of government advertising contracts; not limiting, restricting or prohibiting journalists from freely seeking, receiving or expressing information; and not using the judiciary or political power, directly or indirectly, to intimidate/harass journalists and media outlets critical of the government.

The CPP points out that Castillo is the president least committed to freedom of expression since Alberto Fujimori.

The National Police acts as a shield for the president when he attends public events to prevent journalists from approaching him. On several occasions, police officers have physically attacked reporters.

There are groups of violent citizens who insult and attack journalists, authorities and public figures for their publications, their positions or their work. Political and digital activism that seeks to censor dissenting opinions, mainly through social networks, has also become a front of aggression to freedom of expression.

The Executive Branch is the institution that most attacks - rhetorically and physically - journalists, especially those who investigate alleged acts of government corruption.

In an event held in the region of Huancavelica in November, President Castillo threatened to stop contracting state advertising in private media which, in his opinion, "distort reality, to those who do not want to see the people, to those who want to do something else" - when by law state advertising is defined under technical standards.

In February, a group of policemen prevented journalists from approaching the president to ask him questions in an event held in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima.

An official from the Office of the Council of Ministers said in February that Prime Minister Anibal Torres had sought to prevent state advertising for an educational campaign from going to a local opposition media group.

During a forum in which the president was participating in February, security personnel from the presidency blocked the doors of the venue to prevent the press from entering. Journalists were locked in.

In March, journalist César Hildebrandt made public that President Castillo spoke to him about his interest in having "an important presence" on Channel 7 - despite the fact that the president cannot propose or appoint journalists or coverage on the state channel.

The journalist of Canal 7 (state-run channel), Enrique Chávez, was dismissed for no good reason. When he left his post, he spoke of political interference - although the authorities of the channel denied it.

In April, after the protests against the Castillo government, Prime Minister Aníbal Torres said that the newspaper El Comercio was a "coup plotter", and that in Peru there is a media outlet that "steals the truth;" "it permanently misinforms."

In April the Executive presented a bill to reform Article 61 of the Constitution to - among other things - prohibit cross-ownership of the media.

The aggressions of the Legislative Branch continue, but with less virulence than in previous periods. While the dissolved Congress (2016-2019) and the one that succeeded it (2020-2021) were a constant front of aggression, the current one does not have the anti-press freedom rhetoric or initiatives.

In December, Podemos Peru congresswoman María Teresa Cabrera Vega presented a bill to amend Article 132 of the Penal Code to extend the current prison sentence for defamation - currently from one to three years - to between four and six if it is committed "with the purpose of obtaining any benefit or profit." Thus, the prison sentence will be changed from suspended to effective.

An opinion approved by the Congressional Justice Commission in February states that journalists who disseminate the identity or statements of judicial collaborators and of prosecutors, judges and attorneys will be punished with not less than four and not more than six years in prison. If the disseminator is a public official, the penalty shall be not less than five and not more than seven years in prison, plus disqualification from office.

In recent months, the Attorney General's Office has initiated investigations against journalists and citizens for reporting on the Lava Jato case and the Sodalicio case - and for their positions regarding the 2021 presidential elections.

In November, the Prosecutor's Office initiated an investigation against Ojo-Público journalist Ernesto Cabral for allegedly making an improper disclosure. Cabral revealed that Martin Belaunde Lossio - investigated in the Lava Jato case for money laundering and illicit association - was a judicial collaborator in a context in which the journalist exposed irregular arrangements between the investigated and two prosecutors. The Prosecutor's Office has requested the lifting of the secrecy of the journalist's communications - which violates the right of journalists to confidentiality and anonymity of sources.

On January 8, a group of prosecutors and police raided the home of journalist Pedro Salinas - co-author of the book "Mitad monjes, mitad soldados" (Half monks, half soldiers) - about abuses committed by the religious group Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana. They seized his and his minor daughter's phones and also tried to seize his computer.

In March, the Public Ministry initiated an investigation against more than 20 people - among them Mario Vargas Llosa, Fernando Rospigliosi and even show business personalities - for hypothesizing and expressing opinions about an eventual electoral fraud in the second round of the 2021 elections - which, as it has been demonstrated, did not happen.

Violent groups of citizens have become one of the main forms of aggression against journalists. While in the past it used to be defamation lawsuits, in the last semester there was an increase in harassment and attacks against journalists and public figures by citizens. These aggressions took place in front of media outlets, homes and bookstores. Despite the fact that many of these violent citizens have been identified, neither the Public Prosecutor's Office nor the Ministry of the Interior have undertaken actions to stop the attacks or bring these individuals to justice.

Among these acts of violence, in November violent groups allied to the ultra-right and Fujimorism threatened and assaulted journalists and politicians. The so-called Legion of Patriots of Peru - led by retired Peruvian Army lieutenant colonel Luis Mendoza Willis - announced reprisals and threats against journalists of La República for reporting on his organization. Likewise, the group La Resistencia - through one of its leaders - Juan José Maelo, threatened a journalist from the magazine Hildebrandt en sus trece, because of publications about the organization.

Other relevant events:

In December, an official of the Municipality of Lima prevented journalist Iván Escudero - of Exitosa Noticias - from asking the mayor of Lima, Jorge Muñoz, about why the municipality had not ensured compliance with a commitment made by a company in 2017 to dismantle a clandestine warehouse, where a fire originated at the end of last year.

Denis Flores Díaz - journalist of the program Amazonía informada - was sentenced in the first instance for slandering Javier Cárdenas Guevara - director of Unidad de Gestión Educativa Local (UGEL) de Nauta, in Loreto. He was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and to pay S/. 5,000 in civil reparations.

In November, politician and businessman César Acuña requested an embargo against journalists Christopher Acosta and Jerónimo Pimentel, and the publishing house the latter heads - Penguin Random House - for alleged libelous phrases appearing in the book Plata como cancha, a profile of Acuña - written by Acosta. This request is given as guarantee for a libel suit in which the politician and businessman asks for a compensation of S/.100 million. Then in January, Acosta, Pimentel and Penguin Random House were sentenced to two years suspended imprisonment and to pay a civil indemnity of S/.400,000 for libel. According to the judge in the case, Raúl Rodolfo Jesús Vega, the quotes used by Acosta were not corroborated by "reliable sources."

Sigridt Greffa - a journalist for La Voz Ucayalina - was threatened by the attorney of Néstor Rodríguez Acosta, Eder Zagaceta Barbarán - an individual who has been accused of murdering his sister.

Members of the right-wing groups La Resistencia, La Insurgencia and Los Combatientes, protested violently in front of the editorial office of IDL-Reporteros. They insulted its director, journalist Gustavo Gorriti. IDL-Reporteros has investigated corruption cases linked to right-wing political parties.

In February, the owner of Nova FM and Cadena Sur media in Iquique denounced that unknown persons left a written threat on his office door: "Gastón Medina you are going to die," along with a bullet. Both media are critical of the administration of Javier Gallegos, governor of Ica. These same media outlets were raided by the prosecutor's office late last year.

In March, a group of government sympathizers attacked at least five journalists from different media outlets with blows and whips - while they were covering the cabinet's confidence vote outside the Congress. The attacked reporters work for La República, Caretas, Diario Uno and Latina - whose cameraman had his work equipment damaged.

Journalist Beto Ortiz was sentenced to one year and four months of suspended prison and a civil reparation of S/.50,000 for the crime of aggravated libel. Ortiz presented a report on his program which stated that the former vice-minister of Employment Development, Pedro Castilla, was accused of the crime of killing a woman - although the official was acquitted twice.

Between April 4, 5 and 6 violent demonstrators in the Ica region have threatened, besieged and physically beaten journalists from America TV, Canal N, La Republica, ATV, Dunas TV, Canal 13, Panamericana, TV Peru and Latina, who were covering the events. Some were robbed of their personal belongings and work equipment. Others had to seek protection in stores and hotels in the area. The demonstrators were trying to prevent the journalists from recording the acts of vandalism that have kept blocked the Panamericana Sur highway.

On April 5, when citizens were peacefully demonstrating in downtown Lima against the curfew imposed by the government, a mob attacked journalists covering the events. "A shower of stones began to fall," said Mary Luz Aranda - a journalist from La República - who suffered an injury on her arm, for which she had to be taken to a healthcare center.

The murders of Melissa Alfaro, Hugo Bustíos and Jaime Ayala remain unpunished. More than thirty years after they were murdered, the families of these journalists have not found justice. In the case of Ayala, a trial has recently begun.

Thirty years after the murder of journalist Melissa Alfaro - head of information of Cambio magazine - no one has been brought to justice - although investigations point to the Peruvian Army as the culprit in sending the explosive envelope that killed the journalist. The case went through an amnesty, a lost file and - due to the pandemic - a rescheduling of the trial which, for the moment, has no start date.

In March, the trial began against former Navy officers for the forced disappearance of journalist Jaime Ayala. Among them are Alberto Rivera Valdeavellano and Augusto Gabilondo García del Barco. By the time of concluding this report the trial hearing should take place.

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