Freedom of expression under severe threat in Peru

Expression

In February 2017, two journalists were found dead in Peru. On 27th February, the dismembered body of 55-year old journalist José Feliciano Yactayo Rodríguez was found inside a suitcase that had been torched. Yactayo, a former editor and producer for two of Peru's biggest broadcast news programmes, América Televisión and Frecuencia Latina, was last seen on 24th February. A day before finding Yactayo's body, the body of 27-year-old Julio César Moisés Mesco was discovered in Ica, southern Peru, 16 days after he had gone missing.

The deaths of Yactayo and Moisés occured just three months after the on-air murder of radio host Hernán Choquepata Ordoñez in the southern region of Arequipa. While the underlying motives are still not clear, these crimes have caused great alarm among rights groups and media outlets. As Steven M. Ellis, the International Press Institute's Director of Advocacy and Communications, stated:

"Murders of journalists in connection with their work have been relatively rare in recent years in Peru, so these two deaths, coupled with the disturbing abuse of Mr. Yactayo's remains and a series of other incidents in recent months, raise concerns about the climate journalists face".

On 7th March 2017, representatives of Fuerza Popular - the party founded by former president Alberto Fujimori - presented a controversial bill to Congress entitled the "Law to protect the information freedoms and rights of the people" (PL 1027). The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) condemned the legislative initiative as "a tool for direct censorship of the press". IAPA President Matt Sanders stated that, if passed, it could become a legal instrument for an authoritarian government to silence independent media through accusations and prosecutions.

The original bill was withdrawn in April 2017, but its authors soon resubmitted an amended version (PL 1120) that did not contain some of the original bill's most controversial provisions. The president of the Peruvian Press Committee, Bernardo Roca Rey, insists that the revised bill has just been "cleaned up a little" and that it still violates the Constitution. The IAPA also rejected the revised law. 

In addition, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, expressed concern over the bill. Lanza stated that if the goal of the law is indeed to combat corruption, then independent journalism should be protected and facilitated rather than hindered. He emphasised that legal protections for journalists should be guaranteed and urged Peru to decriminalise defamation. He also insisted that civil servants should allow room for criticism, instead of denouncing journalists for libel, and that justice officials should always prioritise free expression, as Lanza affirmed:

"Justice officials must understand that issues, information and opinions of public interest enjoy reinforced protection through the right to freedom of expression that is enshrined in the Constitution [of Perú] and in the American Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, every time they rule on a conflict between freedom of expression and honour, on a subject of public interest such as corruption, criticism of government management or human rights, they should let the freedom of expression prevail".

Peaceful Assembly

On 31st March 2017, the Peruvian National Police burst on to the campus of the National University of San Marcos to put an end to the students' occupation of the premises. Students had occupied the university buildings on 29th March to protest taxes and increasing tuition costs. Approximately 300 police officers stormed the area, firing tear gas at the students. La Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator for Human Rights), a domestic human rights organisation, issued a statement condemning the use of excessive force and demanding that the dean also be held responsible for the violence. There were serious violations of human rights, as the police took action against the protest without the required legal permissions. Students were detained for long periods of time without access to legal counsel and the police made unfounded allegations against the protesters.