The editor of the Peruvian weekly Nor Oriente has been sentenced to one year in jail and fined 5,000 soles (1,750 US dollars) for defamation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the National Association of Peruvian Journalists (ANP), the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) and Reporteros Sin Fronteras (RSF) have called for his immediate release.
The case against Alejandro Carrascal Carrasco is presumably based on a series of articles he wrote in 2005 alleging corruption at the hands of the director of a Bagua-based public educational institute, said the journalist’s lawyer, Juan José Quispe in a telephone interview with J-Source. Quispe maintained the ruling took everyone by surprise. “Even the person who had actually filed the defamation lawsuit told reporters he was stunned by the judge’s decision, since he had already abandoned the case,” explained Quispe. “But instead, the Ministry of Justice had reactivated it all of a sudden.”
Why did the Ministry of Justice revisit a long forgotten case?
According to local critics, the defamation case was resurrected in an effort to prevent Carrascal from further reporting on controversial government investigations surrounding the indigenous protests that left dozens of people dead in Peru’s Amazon region last June. The protests had erupted in reaction to government plans to open large parts of the Amazon to foreign investment in oil and mining.
The government had already shut down the region’s Radio La Voz de Bagua, accusing the station of “inciting violence” during the standoff between Amazonian natives and security forces. But Carrascal had not shied away from denouncing the measure.
President Alan García has been harshly criticized, at home and abroad, for the way he handled the conflict and the investigations that followed.
Witnesses and relatives of missing protesters (and even of police officers) have accused the government of covering up details of the conflict. They contend the authorities seek to levy responsibility onto the native population and to exonerate security forces from any wrongdoing. In his articles, Carrascal had openly condemned the government’s version of events.
Coincidentally or not, Carrascal’s son, Iván Carrascal, is the lawyer for a native (Asterio Pujupat) who has been accused of being involved in the murder of a police officer during the protests. The officer’s body is yet to be found.
On January 10th, one day prior to Carrascal’s arrest, Nor Oriente released a detailed news report suggesting that the photograph the authorities used as the evidence in the murder charge against the native had been doctored.
If that were not enough, Francisco Miranda Caramutti, the judge who delivered Carrascal’s sentence is also overseeing the case against the native Asterio Pujupat.
Local journalists have denounced the court ruling against Carrascal as a “vendetta” and as an “assault on freedom of speech.” The ANP has protested against the arrest, deeming it “arbitrary.”
While lawyers appeal the ruling, Carrascal’s health has significantly deteriorated. As a result of severe high blood pressure, he had fainted in court before judge Miranda read the sentence. Carrascal was taken to hospital and the sentence was subsequently read in his absence. In jail, Carrascal had his shoes, money and mattress (which must be supplied by the prisoner) stolen. Communication with him has been halted.
Reached by telephone, judge Miranda maintained that, “There are no irregularities in this case.” He declined to elaborate further, adding, “I do not make any statements to the media over the telephone.”