Bogotá, November 3, 2020 – Peruvian authorities must immediately allow local news outlets Cadena Sur and Radio La Mega to resume broadcasting, and return any materials confiscated during the raid of the outlets and of Radio Sistema, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 27, police officers in the southern Peruvian city of Ica raided the Cadena Sur TV station as well as Radio Sistema and Radio La Mega, all three of which are privately owned, following a complaint by Mónica Guillén, the wife of Ica state governor Javier Gallegos, according to a statement by the Lima-based Institute for Press and Society (IPYS).
The raids–during which police confiscated computers and cell phones and disconnected transmitters, forcing all three outlets off the air–came in response to Guillén’s criminal complaint alleging cyber harassment filed in July with the attorney general’s office in Ica, news reports said. She claimed to have been targeted by anonymous people who repeatedly mocked her on the social media platform TikTok with vulgar language, according to news reports.
In a press release reviewed by CPJ, the Ica police said the mocking messages may have emanated from IP addresses within the offices of the outlets. As part of the operation, the press release said the police also raided nine other properties around the city.
“Sending in a team of police officers to raid three news outlets and confiscate their equipment following a complaint by the wife of the local governor is excessive,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “We call on Peruvian authorities to return all the materials confiscated from Cadena Sur, Radio La Mega, and Radio Sistema, allow Cadena Sur and Radio Sistema back on the air, and cease harassing critical media outlets.”
Gastón Medina, the owner of Cadena Sur, told CPJ via messaging app that his employees did not send the TikTok messages. CPJ contacted the managers of Radio Sistema and Radio La Mega via messaging app but neither responded. Medina told CPJ that police had not filed charges against the outlets.
He said 40 police officers, who ignored COVID-19 protocols by failing to social distance, raided his station and that they confiscated laptops and cell phones and damaged transmission equipment.
Medina claimed that Cadena Sur was targeted because it had criticized Gallegos for his management of the pandemic, including alleged wasteful spending on medical equipment. Medina said the station also criticized Guillén for allegedly using state resources to improve her image ahead of a possible run for a seat in Peru’s congress in next year’s elections.
“We are in the opposition, and that is why we were raided,” Medina told CPJ.
According to CPJ’s review of the outlets’ coverage, both Radio Sistema and Radio La Mega have also run critical stories on the governor and his wife.
Guillén did not respond to CPJ’s messages seeking comment. However, at a news conference in Ica on October 28, a video of which was posted on local news outlet ABC Noticia’s Facebook page, she claimed that her status as the wife of the governor had nothing to do with the raids and that, like any Peruvian citizen, she had the right to denounce internet trolls.
Pablo Mamani, a spokesman for the governor, told CPJ via messaging app that the governor was not involved in the raids and that the police and Attorney General’s office had acted independently. CPJ’s phone call to the Ica police press office went unanswered. In an interview with an Ica radio station, Pilar Urbina, one of the state prosecutors involved in the raids, said no “excesses” had been committed, denying that the raids were politically motivated.
As of November 2, Cadena Sur had yet to resume broadcasting, Medina said. Zarela Temoche, wife of the founder of Radio La Mega, told CPJ via messaging app that the station is also still off air. But Radio Sistema is back on the air, according to Carlos Rojas, the Ica representative for Peru’s National Press Association, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
Editor’s note: The first and 13th paragraphs have been updated to reflect that Radio Sistema has resumed broadcasting while Radio La Mega has not. The 13th paragraph has also been updated that Zarela Temoche is the wife of the founder of Radio La Mega.