Bogotá, December 9, 2021 – Peruvian authorities must thoroughly investigate death threats against journalist Jairo Roque Gómez and hold the perpetrators to account, and local officials should refrain from using the country’s outdated defamation laws to threaten reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 1, Roque, editor of the independent Diario Hechicera newspaper in the northern city of Tumbes, published a story about possible irregularities in the contract process to build a public school in Contralmirante Villar, a nearby township, according to Peru’s National Journalists Association and Roque who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
A few hours after publishing, Roque received notarized letters from two Contralmirante Villar officials mentioned in the story, Luis Richard Fiestas Chunga and Gian André Miñano Briceño, Roque told CPJ. In the letters, published by Diario Hechicero, Fiestas and Miñano threated to file criminal defamation lawsuits and demanded that Roque stop writing about them and issue a retraction, without specifying what they objected to in his article. In Peru, defamation is a criminal offense punishable by prison.
Later that day, Roque received six Facebook messages from accounts he did not recognize that discouraged him from continuing to report on Contralmirante Villar officials and threatened him if he continued to do so, he told CPJ. Two of the messages were death threats.
“Peruvian journalists should be free to cover issues of public interest without facing intimidation from public officials or threats to their life,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Peruvian authorities must take the threats against Jairo Roque seriously and ensure his safety, and Contralmirante Villar officials should stop harassing him for his reporting on them.”
One of the Facebook messages came from an account registered in the name of José Luis Cáceres and said, “If you continue nosing around… you will not make it to Christmas.” Roque shared screenshots of the messages with CPJ.
Another message, that came from a Facebook account registered in the name of Yilmer Guerrero Villegas, warned Roque: “You don’t realize who you’re messing with.”
Roque told CPJ that he reported the threats to the Tumbes Office of the Prefect, a branch of Peru’s Interior Ministry, which Roque said is investigating the threats. CPJ messaged the office but received no response. CPJ also called the Contralmirante Villar municipal hall and emailed the official address for the mayor’s office to reach Fiestas and Miñano but did not receive a reply.
CPJ has repeatedly called on Peruvian authorities to reform its legal code to make defamation a civil offense.