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Peru: Attacks to human rights and freedom of expression

The bloody events in the Peruvian town of Bagua began when the police removed a road blockade of indigenous people protesting against a law (DL 1090) they believe undermines their ancestral rights to their territory. They have not just resulted in the death of an unknown number of civilians (the official figure is 10, but estimates from other sources range between 80 and 250) and 23 police officers, but have also triggered a wave of marches and protests across Peru in solidarity with the indigenous people. The majority of Peruvians seem to have just one answer to the question of who is responsible for these deaths: the government.

The government's only response appears to be repression. For example, a student protest in Lima was met by an unusual number of riot police and dispersed with tear gas. Plans have also been announced to clear a stretch of road (in Yurimaguas) this weekend, which continues to be blocked by protesters. Although the government has met with local indigenous leaders, some fear further bloodshed.

The mass media have stuck strictly to the official version of events, especially as they began to unfold, and therefore social media such as blogs and twitter (check hashtag #bagua) have become the principle source of alternative information. As there continues to be a great deal of disinformation about the situation, however, it might be better if this situation was reversed.

One event which has given many cause to think about the government's approach to the spreading of such unofficial information is the closing of Bagua's radio station, La Voz de la Selva, apparently for failing to submit correct documentation. The station had already issued a statement warning of its fears this may happen. Today, sadly, these fears were fulfilled, prompting an immediate protest campaign amongst broadcasters and academics. The station owners also plan to challenge the closure. The website Enlace Nacional has echoed the station's condemnation of torture and human rights abuses. It has also spoken out against the suspension of guarantees made by the government, and its prevention of a mass to commemorate the victims of the violence.

Another factor which demonstrates the intransigence of the government is the suspension of seven members of congress who had been speaking out in support of indigenous people. Finally, although the government has announced it will reopen dialogue with indigenous representatives, it refuses to include AIDESEP, the organisation which represents the majority of Peru's indigenous communities, but is also accused of radicalising them. The government ombudsman has spoken out against this decision.

At present, the general outlook for human rights and freedom of expression in Peru is not promising. It would be wise to alert the international community, asking them to send commissions and keep a careful eye on developments in Peru, before events escalate further and create a situation that the country will forever regret.

English translation from the original post in spanish by Tom Schrieber.

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