Peruvian daily attacked after linking police to gangs

New York, December 6, 2011–The offices of Peruvian regional daily El Sol de los Andes were attacked and vandalized on November 30 after the newspaper reported on alleged links between local police and criminal gangs, according to local press reports

A mob of around 30 people tried to break down the main door of the El Sol de los Andes office but failed, Oscar Rodríguez, the paper’s investigative reporter, told CPJ. The paper, which began publishing in October, is based in the central Peruvian city of Huancayo. Rodríguez also told CPJ that the mob burned newspapers and banners carrying the paper’s logo, defaced the wall of the building with paint, and prevented newspaper staff members from leaving the building for about two hours. One editor, Rocío Meza, fainted and could not be evacuated for medical care, Gino Márquez, associate editor of the newspaper, told CPJ. Meza eventually recovered, Márquez said.

Márquez and Rodríguez told CPJ that the attack was in direct response to a series of seven stories written by Rodríguez the week before, which connected Huancayo police officers to criminal gangs that have been murdering taxi drivers and stealing their cars to sell for parts. Fifteen Huancayo taxi drivers have been killed this year, Rodríguez said. He added that a police spokesman denied the police had any responsibility for the murders during a November 26 press conference.

One police officer was arrested for his alleged links to the gangs and three others were under investigation, the newspaper had reported earlier. Rodríguez had interviewed relatives of the implicated officers for the story, and was later able to identify them as the assailants in the November 30 attack.

“We condemn this attack on El Sol de los Andes,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “This is the latest in a series of attacks on Peruvian media and journalists who investigate official misconduct. Peruvian authorities must ensure that the media can report critically without fear of reprisal.”

Despite numerous calls for help to the police station, located just two blocks from the newspaper offices, the police arrived late and just “stood around like spectators,” Márquez told CPJ. He said the mob was finally dispersed by the newspaper’s private security guards. But Huancayo Police Chief Colonel Salvador Iglesias told CPJ that his agents had responded in a timely manner and that reporters for the newspaper had exaggerated the hostility of the protesters.

Interior Minister Óscar Valdés said he would send a special group of law enforcement officers to Huancayo to investigate the accusations of misconduct within local police units and, specifically, to examine the alleged ties to the murders, according to press reports.

Peruvian journalists have been repeatedly targeted this year for reporting on misconduct by public officials and law enforcement officers. On March 9, news daily Voces was hit with homemade explosive devices. Three provincial journalists were murdered in 2011, at least one in direct reprisal for his work, CPJ research shows. CPJ continues to investigate the other killings.