Presidential candidate Pedro Castillo delivers a speech in Lima, Peru, on May 18, 2021. People attending a rally in support of Castillo recently harassed and assaulted two journalists. (AFP/Gian Masko)

Supporters of Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo harass, assault 2 journalists covering rally

Miami, May 25, 2021 – Peruvian authorities must investigate the recent attack on journalists Stefanie Medina and Carlos Brown, and guarantee that the press can cover election events safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 19, at about 5:15 p.m., a group of people at a rally in support of presidential candidate Pedro Castillo assaulted Medina, a reporter for the privately owned television outlets América Televisión and Canal N, and Brown, a camera operator for those outlets, while they were covering the event in the southern city of Ayacucho, according to news reports and both journalists, who spoke with CPJ over messaging app.

As the reporting team was walking through the rally, a speaker referred to the press generally as “medios mermeleros,” a colloquialism implying that journalists accepted bribes for their coverage, after which several people in the crowd started insulting Medina and Brown and tried to grab their equipment, Medina told CPJ.

Castillo took the stage soon thereafter and gave a speech that referenced the press, saying that he knew how much television news anchors were getting paid and who paid them, and that he would reveal such information soon, according to Medina and press reports. After his speech, a woman kicked Medina in the back and a man hit Brown on the head with a stick, Medina said.

The reporting team left the rally for fear of being “lynched,” Medina said. She posted a video on Twitter showing a group of people chasing them, hitting them, and shouting that they were “traitors,” “corrupt,” and “trash media.” The journalists boarded a state security vehicle and fled the scene, and did not sustain any injuries, Medina said.

“The anti-press rhetoric coming from Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo is concerning and dangerous. Those seeking to hold office must not put journalists’ lives at risk by carelessly making inflammatory statements against the media,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Peruvian authorities must investigate the attacks on Stefanie Medina and Carlos Brown, and send a clear message that encouraging violence against the press and attacking journalists has no place in a democracy.”

CPJ emailed Free Peru, Castillo’s political party, for comment, but did not receive any reply. CPJ called the Peruvian National Police at the phone number on their official website, but the number was out of service.

On May 20, Castillo posted a video on Facebook condemning the harassment of the journalists and suggesting those responsible could have infiltrated the event. He also posted a tweet expressing “solidarity with the journalist who suffered attacks,” but also criticized the “#trashmedia,” which he alleged accepted payment for its editorial positions; he later deleted the tweet, according to news reports.

The local press freedom organization IPYS said in a statement that the attacks on Medina and Brown “had been incited by candidate Pedro Castillo himself.”

“Insulting journalists has been normalized,” Medina told CPJ. “The anti-press bias that has been sown in the population is very strong.”

The second round of Peru’s presidential election is scheduled for June 6; Castillo has led recent polls against candidate Keiko Fujimori, according to reports.