New York, April 22, 2019 - Peruvian authorities should immediately take action to ensure the safety of journalists at news website IDL-Reporteros, and officials should refrain from making inflammatory statements blaming the outlet and its director, Gustavo Gorriti, for the suicide last week of former President Alan García, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Multiple political figures, including a former minister and a sitting member of Congress, publicly named Gorriti as one of the people responsible for García's death in television interviews and social media posts last week, according to Gorriti and screenshots shared with CPJ. García, a two-term president of Peru from 1985 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2011, died in surgery on April 17 after shooting himself when police came to his Lima home to arrest him on corruption allegations, according to news reports.
"While the Peruvian political world is in mourning, vilifying reporters like Gustavo Gorriti for doing vital investigative journalism is not an appropriate response to Alan García's death," said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. "This rhetoric contributes to a dangerous environment that encourages demonization and can lead to real violence against the media."
In a series of tweets on April 17, Congressman Héctor Becerril criticized the country's prosecutors and described Gorriti as one of the main individuals "responsible" for García's death. A number of Twitter accounts echoed and intensified this rhetoric, describing Gorriti as a "murderer" and "assassin" and posting photos from outside IDL-Reporteros offices, according to screenshots reviewed by CPJ.
In interviews with newspaper RPP Noticias and state-owned television outlet TV Perú, Luis Gonzáles Posada, a former congressmen and minister of foreign relations during part of García's first term, blamed media outlets for working "every day to construct an image of García as corrupt" and named Gorriti as one of the leaders of that alleged campaign.
Gorriti told CPJ he believed the increasingly heated rhetoric following García's death amounted to "incitement of violence" against the press.
CPJ's repeated calls to the national prosecutor's office in Lima went unanswered.
IDL-Reporteros has been investigating cases of corruption in Peru in connection to Operation Car Wash, a trans-national corruption scandal centered on the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, whose executives have admitted to paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to officials across the continent. Four former presidents of Peru have been implicated in allegations related to the Odebrecht scandal, according to reports.
Prosecutors ordered an initial 10-day detention following allegations that money from Odebrecht illegally funded Garcia's presidential campaign in 2006, according to reports. At the time of his death, he had not been formally charged with any crime.
In July 2018, CPJ reported that police and officials from the public prosecutor's office went to the Lima offices of IDL-Reporteros to demand that it hand over materials used in the news website's coverage of alleged government corruption. The officials left after they were unable to show a warrant justifying the search and the Public Ministry apologized on Twitter a few hours later.