Dozens of Reporters Injured Covering Protests in Peru

Riot police officers are seen in Lima, Peru, on November 10, 2020. Police have attacked and harassed journalists covering protests in the city. (AFP/Ernesto Benavides)

HAVANA TIMES – Peruvian authorities should ensure that journalists can cover protests safely, and thoroughly investigate attacks on the press by demonstrators and police officers alike, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police officers attacked members of the press with tear gas, pellets, and other ordnance while they were covering protests following the November 9 impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra, injuring at least 35 journalists, according to news reports and a statement by the Institute for Press and Society, a local press freedom group.

In an interview with local outlet Convoca, Zuliana Lainez, secretary-general of the National Press Association of Peru, a local trade group, said that demonstrators were responsible for a small number of attacks on the press, and that police had committed “ninety percent” of such attacks.

At least two protesters have been killed amid the demonstrations, according to news reports.

“Peruvian authorities must ensure that journalists can cover demonstrations freely and without harm or retaliation from security forces or demonstrators,” said CPJ South and Central Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Reports of authorities’ use of force against the media should be thoroughly investigated, and those responsible must be held to account.”

Holding police to account

On November 10, a police officer fired pellets from a shotgun in the direction of Karen Santillán, a reporter for Lima TV and the radio station Exitosa, while she was covering protests in Lima; the journalist was unharmed but the pellets hit the windshield of the station’s vehicle, according to a report by the National Press Association of Peru.

Also on November 10, demonstrators hurled objects at police, and a rock hit Pedro Goñi, a reporter for local radio station RPP, in the head, according to that report, which said that the journalist was brought to a local clinic where he received nine stitches.

On November 12, police fired a tear gas canister that hit Alonso Balbuena, a videographer for the investigative news website Ojo Público, in the shin, opening a large gash, according to a report by his employer. Police then threatened to beat him until he showed his press credential, according to that report.

Ojo Público wrote that Balbuena was recovering from his injury in a Lima clinic.

Also on November 12, police fired a pellet round that hit Alonso Chero, a photographer for the Lima daily El Comercio, in the back, he told the internet TV station Peru21.

The pellet lodged in his back just inches from his spinal column, and was removed by doctors at a Lima clinic, according to that report. Chero said he has recovered from the injury but told Peru21, “The doctors said I was very lucky.”

In a November 12 interview with RPP, Interior Minister Gastón Rodríguez denied that the police had shot pellets during the protests and said they were only authorized to use tear gas. Rodríguez resigned yesterday, according to reports.

CPJ called and emailed the Interior Ministry and the National Police for comment, but did not receive any responses. In a statement released November 14, Peru’s National Police said officers would only employ “rational use of force” to protect public order.

Read more SOS for journalist reports here.