Peru: serious decline in freedom of expression and the press

Peru: serious decline in freedom of expression and the press
Members of Indigenous communities camp on the land of Las Bambas mine during protest. 26 April 2022, REUTERS/Angela Ponce.

Expression

Intimidation and stigmatisation by public officials

The mayor of Chiclayo and president of the Association of Peruvian Municipalities (AMPE) used notarised letters to intimidate the newspaper Correo in Lambayeque, demanding that they rectify reports linking him to corruption and public administration irregularities. The media outlet reported receiving six notarised letters from the mayor on 7th April 2022, in which he criticised the outlet’s writing style and presentation of information but did not specify any alleged falsehoods in the reporting that could affect his reputation. The Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Institute Press and Society – IPYS) said this was an abuse of the right to rectification, and they were considering filing a complaint against the mayor.

In a separate development, on 12th April 2022 President Pedro Castillo sent a notarised letter to Rosana Cueva, editor and host of the independent TV news magazine Panorama, and to José Ignacio Beteta, editor of the independent news website Vigilante, demanding a retraction of recent reporting. In the letters, President Castillo threatened to file a criminal defamation lawsuit against the two journalists within 24 hours unless they retracted reports that described his alleged close ties to a public works contractor who is under investigation for corruption. The Ombudsperson’s Office said that the notarised letter sent by President Castillo infringed press freedom and freedom of expression standards.

In another incident, on 18th April 2022 Prime Minister Aníbal Torres stigmatised the work of the press in Peru at a press conference, accusing media outlets of attacking President Castillo’s government at any opportunity. The Prime Minister also implied that media criticism of the government is driven by cuts in public spending on media advertising.

Attack on journalists covering demonstrations

At least eight press workers were assaulted by protesters on 4th April 2021, amid national protests against surging prices. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the protests were led by lorry drivers and farmers but quickly spread across Peru. According to the Asociación Nacional de Periodistas de Perú (National Association of Journalists of Peru - ANP), attacks on the press were registered in Ica, Lima and Pucallpa. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the violence against journalists and demanded that the necessary measures be implemented so they could carry out their work safely.

During this same wave of protests, in Ica on 6th April 2022, a team of reporters with América Televisión had to take refuge in a hotel to avoid a group of demonstrators threatening to lynch them. Journalist Salvador Sampén, camera operator Martín Moreno San Martin and assistant Bryan Chanta were in the region to cover the protests. The press team reported acts of violence and vandalism by the demonstrators, some of whom had attacked public and private buildings. They were cornered and threatened while covering the events.

Separately, on 21st April 2022, a group of about 50 demonstrators protested outside the home of journalist Ketty Vela in Tocache, San Martín region. Vela said the demonstrators acted violently, throwing sticks and stones at her house and insulting her. The protesters called Vela a “sellout” over her interviews with supporters of a local water use project, as well as her on-air comments urging protesters against that project to refrain from violence after some had damaged storefronts in Tocache.

Authorities restrict the media’s access to information

On 18th April 2022, IPYS sent a letter to the President of Congress demanding that the press be given access to Congress facilities. Entry for the press to areas of the building was restricted as a pandemic-related measure. Although there were resolutions lifting pandemic restrictions at national level, the restrictions at the legislative facilities continued. The situation had remained unchanged by the end of May 2022.

In a separate but similar development, press organisations reported that public officials have failed to provide information on President Pedro Castillo’s official agenda and members of the press were often refused access to important public events during his first year in government. Members of the president’s security team reportedly sought to obstruct the work of journalists attempting to approach him during public events. On 2nd June 2022, IPYS warned that President Pedro Castillo had not responded to the press or given press statements for 100 days.

Report on Peru

On 6th May 2022, the Consejo de la Prensa Peruana (Peruvian Press Council - CPP) presented their report for the Inter American Press Association on freedom of expression in Peru during the first quarter of 2022. According to the press group, freedom of expression and the press in Peru are facing their worse period of the past two decades. They said investigations against journalists have continued to take place, prompted by members of the Legislative, Judiciary and Executive as well as the Attorney General’s Office. The report also highlighted journalists’ lack of access to public events with President Pedro Castillo and the violence journalists face from radicalised political groups.

IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression visits Peru

On 19th May 2022, during a visit to Peru of Pedro Vaca, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), several civil society organisations presented a document stating that the Peruvian State does not provide guarantees for diversity and pluralism, which they said are conditions for effective freedom of expression. The document is signed by OBSERVACOM, the ANP, the Institute of Legal Defence and the Forum for the Right to Communication. The organisations cited key challenges for freedom of expression in Peru, including high levels of media concentration, the absence of a system of non-governmental public media and the marginalisation of community and Indigenous media.

As reported by Servindi, human rights defenders also met with the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur to denounce criminalisation and lack of guarantees for their rights. They alerted him to the stigmatisation and violence from state and non-state actors, including far-right groups. Indigenous communicators asked Vaca to recommend that the Peruvian State take action to promote access to the right to communication for Indigenous peoples and communities.

On 2nd June 2021, the Office of the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur presented preliminary observations from the visit. In the document, the Special Rapporteur’s Office noted a polarised political and social context, with the persistence of norms and practices that negatively impact the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. Among issues highlighted were a serious deterioration of the public debate, daily limitations to the work of the press, a climate of violence and hostility against journalists and the media, as well as constant attempts to exclude dissenting opinion, including through physical violence.

Association

On 21st March 2022, environmental defender Juan Julio Fernández Hanco was shot and killed at his house in Inambari, Tambopata. He was a member of a family of land defenders who resist illegal mining in and around the Tambopata National Reserve in Madre de Dios.

On 19th April 2022, Nomatsigenga Indigenous leader Ulises Rumiche Quintimari was found dead with a gunshot wound in the Satipo province, Junín region. His body was found on the Naylamp de Sonomoro highway, near San Ramón de Pangoa. Rumiche worked as manager of Indigenous and Amazonian Peoples of the district of Pangoa. The defender’s assassination took place just hours after he had met with the deputy minister responsible for vulnerable populations and women.

The IACHR expressed concern about the violence, intimidation and criminalisation of human rights defenders in the region in early 2022, mentioning these two recent killings.

In a separate but similar development, on 16th April 2022, Indigenous organisations called on authorities to protect the life of Kakataibo Indigenous leader Herlin Odicio Estrella of the Yamino community. Estrella is the president of the National Federation of Kakataibo Communities (Fenacoka) and faces serious risks, with constant threats from persons linked to narcotrafficking.

On 16th June 2022, over 120 human rights defenders (HRDs) from across the country gathered in Lima to participate in a National Meeting of Defenders, a space for reflection, training and organising among HRDs. The participants denounced the wave of killings and judicial harassment, and the extreme violence in their regions. They also warned of the contamination of the country’s natural resources and demanded recognition of HRDs as indispensable actors in a democratic and sovereign society and in their important role in the fight against climate change.

Surveillance and stigmatisation

Documents of the Dirección General de Inteligencia del Ministerio del Interior (General Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of the Interior - DIGIMIN) leaked in May 2022 showed that the government entity compiled information on environmental defenders and journalists, sometimes stigmatising them in their reports.

In documents about social conflict produced in October 2021, DIGIMIN collected information on at least three environmental defenders of Espinar. As reported on the CIVICUS Monitor at the time, in October 2021 communities in Espinar blocked a key route in protest against mining activities in the region. One report produced by DIGIMIN claims that communicator Vidal Merma Maccarco “uses the façade of an independent social communicator to stir up the population of Espinar.” Merma Maccarco is an independent journalist whose work focuses on investigating the consequences of mining in the province.

Peaceful Assembly

Conflict continues at Las Bambas mine

For almost two months, demonstrators occupied land belonging to the Las Bambas copper mine in protest against the lack of compliance with commitments made by mining company MMG to the Fuerabamba and Huancuire communities in Apurímac. On 14th April 2022, protesters entered the mine and camped inside, forcing Las Bambas to shut down operations a few days later. In this period, there were some reports of police using excessive force in attempts to disrupt protesters and remove them from the mining facilities. 14 people were injured and eleven detained on 27th April 2022.

Lack of a solution for the situation led mineworkers to stage a protest on 4th May 2022, calling on government to resolve the conflict in the Apurímac region so that work on the mine could be resumed. They said the continued paralysis was putting their jobs at risk. Similar marches took place on 2nd June 2022, with hundreds of mineworkers protesting in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa. Mining unions said that, because of the suspension, about 3,000 workers were laid off by contractors providing services for Las Bambas.

On 9th June 2022, the communities agreed to lift the protest temporarily and engage in talks with MMG. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, conflict over the Las Bambas mine has been ongoing for several years, leading to protests that have often been met with repression by authorities.