Tercera Toma de Lima ended with protesters arrested
Peru has been immersed in a political and human rights crisis since December 2022. President Dina Boluarte has been at the country's helm for seven months, and according to polls, 80% of the population does not support her. She was elected on a progressive ticket; however, after taking office as president, she entered into a political alliance with the country's right-wing forces.
At the beginning of her mandate, Boluarte had proposed moving the elections up to 2024. However, in June, she stated that this proposal "is closed" and that she will serve out the term of office for which she was elected vice-president on the ticket of Pedro Castillo, which is due to end on 28th July 2026.
In addition to this institutional crisis, the country suffered two earthquakes in June. A state of emergency was also declared following the eruption of the Ubinas volcano, and Peru is facing the worst outbreak of dengue fever in its history.
Bill threatening the lives of indigenous peoples in isolation is shelved
On 23rd June 2023, the Decentralisation Commission of the Congress of the Republic declined to consider draft Law 3518/2022-CR, which proposed to amend Law 28736 (PIACI Law) and was passed in 2006 to protect indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact (PIACI), considered the most vulnerable in the country.
These indigenous peoples are kept apart from the rest of the world voluntarily in response to traumatic events in the history of indigenous communities. In Peru, it is estimated that 7500 isolated indigenous peoples live in at least 20 indigenous villages. For them, the Peruvian state has created seven indigenous and territorial reserves, spaces where no activity can take place and where no other people are allowed to enter.
The controversial bill, as mentioned above and promoted by pro-Fujimori congressman Jorge Morante, proposed to take functions away from the Ministry of Culture (Mincul) and transfer them to the regional governments, and aimed to annul the creation of some indigenous reserves that took years to be recognised.
The attempt to amend the existing law was widely rejected by a diversity of actors at a national and international level. Ambassadors of Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom sent a letter to the president of the Decentralisation Commission expressing their concern about the legislation. In the letter, they stated that the bill could negatively impact the environment and the indigenous peoples living in these areas if approved. The letter pointed out that: "There is a risk that the proposed changes will generate serious consequences such as the invasion of outsiders into the territory and overexposure to extractive activities - with associated problems such as deforestation (and a negative impact on ecosystems), forced migration, an increase in conflicts between indigenous groups and the risk to the health of uncontacted indigenous populations".
Organisations warn about attempt to reconstitute the PIACI Regional Board in Loreto
The Regional Board for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact (PIACI) in the department of Loreto was created in 2018 to take actions that protect isolated and initially contacted peoples. Still, certain recent events have put it at risk of being used against that population.
The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), and its regional base in Loreto, the Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the East (ORPIO), have alerted that regional authorities in Loreto, who question the existence of PIACI reserves, have initiated a process to reactivate and reconstitute the board, excluding indigenous organisations. The objective would be to turn this space into one controlled by local officials willing to make agreements that prioritise the supposed economic interests of the region over the lives of the PIACI.
AIDESEP represents 2,439 native communities organised in 109 federations and nine regional organisations.
In a positive development related to this issue, the Civil Chamber of the Court of Loreto has confirmed the ruling that declares the lawsuit filed by ORPIO to prevent the granting of forest concessions in the indigenous reserves that are in the process of being created - Yavari Tapiche, Yavari Mirim, Napo Tigre and Sierra del Divisor Occidental - to be well founded in the first instance. The lawsuit was presented by ORPIO, with the technical and legal support of SERVINDI, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN), Rainforest Foundation, and the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) against the irregular actions of the Gerencia Regional de Desarrollo Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (GERFOR) and the Gobierno Regional de Loreto (GOREL).
“Tercera Toma de Lima”
Popular discontent has been reactivated in the country, given Dina Boluarte's pretensions to power, the self-serving use of laws in Congress, and impunity for deaths in past protests.
On 19th July, the five months of calm following the political and social outbreak of December 2022 were broken. Convened by trade unions, social organisations, and various political leaders, the third Toma de Lima (Takeover of Lima) took place, demanding the departure of Boluarte and the immediate closure of Congress.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 21,000 people took to the streets of Lima to protest, passing through the police barricade located at one of the points in the historic centre and reaching the outside of the Peruvian Congress, whose closure they have been demanding since the beginning of the year, as well as the resignation of President Dina Boluarte. The third Toma de Lima ended with six people arrested and eight injured, four civilians and four policemen.
In June, Boluarte harshly criticised the announcement of new social protests against her government. According to reports, the government ordered the deployment of more than 8,000 police officers at various points in the capital for the 19th. Further mobilisations were planned for the 28th, the Peruvian Independence Day.
On 14th July, Peruvian authorities also extended the state of emergency for another 30 days, ahead of new protests on 19th and 28th July. The state of emergency applied to the main highways in the south of the country. The decision was taken by the Council of Ministers who pledged to respect the right to demonstrate. However, the executive remarked that this should not affect people or public and private property.
As reported by a news outlet, Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said that: “Social protest must not affect public goods or people. This Government will safeguard the integrity of those who march and the millions of Peruvians who will not, and want to work to celebrate the Homeland”.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concludes that Peru committed "serious human rights violations" during the protests over the removal of President Castillo.
In the protests that erupted after the dismissal of President Pedro Castillo on 7th December 2022, over 60 people died in clashes between the police, military, and protesters. It was one of the most violent episodes in Peru in the last two decades. The highest number of victims was recorded in the Andean regions of Ayacucho and Puno.
A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) focuses on the events that occurred between 7th December 2022 and 23rd January 2023. The comprehensive investigation confirms that the majority of the deceased and injured were the result of "disproportionate, indiscriminate, and lethal use of force".
The Commission notes in the report that the response of the State forces was not uniform throughout the national territory and that there were serious episodes of excessive use of force in specific cases. Indeed, from the information received in Lima, Ica, Arequipa, and Cusco, it appears that the State's response was characterised by the disproportionate, indiscriminate, and lethal use of force. This is confirmed by factors such as the high number of people killed and injured with injuries to the upper body from firearms, including pellets, as well as the location of a significant number of victims who were not even participating in the protest or were in the vicinity of the trouble spots. "It could be qualified as a massacre", the report states, adding that the deaths of state agents "could also constitute extrajudicial executions".
President Boluarte has rejected the IACHR report and defended the military and police forces, claiming that "international standards" were followed during the protests.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report also condemning Peru’s reaction to the anti-government protests of December 2022. After reviewing autopsy and ballistic reports as well as health records, HRW found that most of the protester and bystander deaths were the result of gunshot wounds. As reported by Al Jazeera, César Muñoz, the Americas Associate Director at HRW said “We have found conclusive evidence that police and military in Peru used disproportionate, indiscriminate and brutal force against protesters and bystanders”.
Más de 20.000 personas en protestas antigubernamentales en #Perú— DW Español (@dw_espanol) July 20, 2023
La "tercera toma de Lima" dejó ocho heridos y seis detenidos.
Los manifestantes exigen el adelanto de las elecciones y la renuncia de la presidenta Dina Boluarte.
Se esperan más movilizaciones. /pl pic.twitter.com/itjnwuQ1M2
Supreme Court ruling criminalises peaceful protest
On 17th April 2023, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court declared a lawsuit null and void, which had been brought forward by four people who were convicted in 2019 for the crime against public safety by blocking the road to the Las Bambas mine in cassation ruling 1464-2021/Apurímac. In this judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to protest is not recognised in the Political Constitution of Peru "or in any other conventional norm" and it holds that peaceful citizen marches are not exempt from being considered a criminal offence.
The court ruling - signed by magistrates César San Martín Castro, Manuel Luján Túpez, Paloma Altabás Kajatt, Iván Sequeiros Vargas and Walter Cotrina Miñano - establishes that physical aggression, damage to public or private property, obstruction of basic services, blocking of roads or destruction of judicial documents cannot be considered a peaceful demonstration because it is a common crime. It is also established that labour strikes and hunger strikes are the only means of expressing dissent and resistance to the authorities. Following this reasoning, they stated that: "For this reason, any overflowing of these peaceful standards becomes an illegal act of struggle or force and, if it meets the other typical elements, it becomes an unlawful act of criminal reproach".
This judgment was seriously criticised, not only for being incompatible with international human rights standards, but also for sending a dangerous message to all operators of the justice system, the security forces, and the population preparing to resume social protests. Civil society organisation Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) presented nine criticisms of the Supreme Court's ruling, referring to the alleged lack of justification of the right to protest, ignoring the disruptive nature of the social protest, the alleged unconstitutionality of the exercise of any right when it restricts other rights, and because the ruling does not discriminate between peaceful and violent protests, among other issues.
Following the controversial decision, the judiciary issued a statement on 17th May to specify that they would guarantee the right to protest, stating that: "The judiciary guarantees and respects the unrestricted right of citizens to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the right to hold opposing views and to express them collectively and publicly".
Bill threatens freedom of expression
On 16th March 2023, the Justice Commission of the Peruvian Congress approved a bill (Law No. 2862-2022-CR) amending articles 131 and 132 of the Comprehensive Criminal Code, which establishes increased penalties for the crimes of slander and defamation, "for the improper use of social media, social networks or websites". This will be sent for approval by the Plenary of Congress.
Article 131 of the current Code establishes that the crime of slander is punishable by a fine of between 90 and 120 day-fines (a calculation based on the defendant's salary), with the modification that it will be punished with the same days-fine, plus a civil reparation in favour of the plaintiff.
Article 132, which refers to defamation, establishes a prison sentence of no less than one or more than two years, with a 90 to 120-day fine. The new bill even modifies the definition of the offence, adding "personal intimacy" to the harm to honour and reputation.
Asociación Nacional de Periodistas del Perú (National Association of Journalists of Peru), Consejo de la Prensa Peruana (Peruvian Press Council), and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute) sent a letter to the president of Congress to express their concerns about the bill.
The letter points out that the bill increases penalties for defamation and represents a serious threat to freedom of expression, which goes against the recommendations of Inter-American standards. Moreover, most democratic countries in the Americas do not provide for criminal penalties for defamation, as the bill itself points out. The letter also mentions that such measures are particularly worrying in a country where nearly 150 journalists have been taken to court in the last five years because of their journalistic work.
Additionally, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) called for the withdrawal of the bill, describing it as a "dangerous step backwards for press freedom and freedom of expression in the digital space". The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, cited article 3 of the Declaration of Salta: "Governments must not, through regulations, inhibit statements of public interest in the digital space, nor should they impose enhanced penalties based on the fact that they have been expressed in that space. Likewise, governments must not penalize criticism, information, or protests against public officials regarding matters of public interest or against individuals who voluntarily expose themselves to public scrutiny".
Two instances of harassment by the extremist group known as "The Resistance"
On 5th May 2023, the right-wing extremist group La Resistencia (The Resistance) arrived at the offices of the investigative media outlet IDL-Reporteros to hurl harangues, insults and bags of rubbish at the premises. The investigative media outlet had scheduled an activity to present two journalism manuals that were promoted on its social networks. Given the threats to boycott the event, they finally decided to make it a virtual event.
In a separate incident on 27th June 2023, the extremist group La Resistencia arrived at the home of journalist Rosa María Palacios to harass and insult her for her work and also to refer disparagingly to her body and physique.
This is the second time this year that the radical group has gone to Palacios' house to shout insults for hours, disturbing the peace of the neighbours, while the municipal police who, as on other occasions, limited themselves to observing what was going on rather than intervening.
Former prime minister's supporters assault journalists
On 20th June 2023, close associates of Pedro Castillo's former prime minister Betsy Chávez attacked journalists César Cano Ramos of Canal N, Javier Rumiche Gómez of RPP, Liz Ferrer Rivera of La República and Silvio Alvis Porroa of Exitosa, all correspondents of national media in Tacna, a region in the south of the country.
The journalists were covering the pre-detention of Betsy Chávez, a judicial action ordered by the Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, including 18 months of preventive detention of the former minister in the framework of an investigation into the alleged accusations of rebellion and conspiracy made against her.
Police prevent coverage of the president's prosecution proceedings
On 6th June 2023, a police contingent surrounded the street where the Attorney General's Office is located to prevent the press from closely covering the arrival of President Dina Boluarte who was summoned to testify as part of the investigations of her government in the cases of those killed in the December 2022 and January 2023 protests.
Journalists from different media were removed by police. Stefanie Medina, a reporter for Latina TV who managed to get past the police cordon, was forbidden by state security to continue filming, even though she was filming from the street. The same happened to other reporters covering the prosecution proceedings.
Vamos, ya colocaron rejas. La prensa se acercará y preguntará en la medida de lo posible, pero no estando a una cuadra de donde está la noticia. 👇 https://t.co/A8hbUz2z2r— Joanna Castro (@Joannita26) June 6, 2023