Paola Ugaz by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Paola Ugaz

 

Peru continues to be riven by political turmoil. This is partly due to corruption scandals, which have touched nearly every president in the last decade, as well as scores of lawmakers. According to Human Rights Watch, ‘many members of Congress seem more interested in horse-trading, partisan gains, and pursuing petty personal agendas … than in addressing the country’s problems’. In December 2022, the sitting president, Pedro Castillo, attempted to dissolve Congress and assume judicial power himself amid serious allegations of corruption. Congress removed him from office and Vice President Dina Boluarte became the country’s seventh president in six years. Like her predecessor, she has done little to mitigate widespread human rights abuses.

PEN and other human rights organisations remain seriously concerned by the ongoing campaign of harassment against journalist and author Paola Ugaz (LR, March 2022), which includes threats and defamation lawsuits. This persecution stems from the investigations she has conducted with fellow journalist Pedro Salinas since 2010 into corruption and physical, psychological and sexual abuse within the Catholic organisation Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana. The harassment worsened after the publication of their book Mitad monjes, mitad soldados (‘Half Monks, Half Soldiers’) in 2015. Ugaz began to receive further threats following the announcement that she was working on a new book (yet to be published) about the group’s financial management.

Ugaz has faced at least five legal proceedings related to Mitad monjes, mitad soldados and her investigative journalism. In October 2020, she received a death threat on her Instagram account. At the same time, a complaint filed by Luciano Revoredo Rojas, a former congressional candidate and director of the conservative Catholic news and commentary website La Abeja, led to Ugaz being put on trial for aggravated defamation. She was acquitted in early 2022.

Last November, Ugaz met Pope Francis, who commented: ‘It is time for the truth and to listen to the message and not punish the messenger, and if the messenger is a woman, the situation is even worse.’ This statement followed an announcement by the Vatican that it intended to investigate allegations of sexual abuse within Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana.

On 25 July this year, the Peruvian Public Prosecutor’s Office declared the closure of another investigation into Ugaz stemming from an accusation of money laundering. The statement noted that the allegations against her lacked ‘credibility, as there are conflicts between the complainant and the investigated’.

While PEN welcomes this decision, it condemns the ongoing harassment of Ugaz, including an investigation into her for alleged illicit enrichment initiated in April by Patricia Benavides, Peru’s attorney general, responding to a legal complaint filed by Revoredo. Citing fake WhatsApp chats published in the newspaper Expreso, Revoredo alleged that Ugaz had made money illegally as a member of the press team of Susana Villarán, a former mayor of Lima. As part of this investigation, the authorities have sanctioned the scrutiny of her phone calls and messages, measures which encroach upon her role as a journalist and compromise the confidentiality of information shared by her sources. On 12 May, Ugaz was the target of media attacks which linked her to the case of a public official accused of money laundering. She was accused of attending a Google conference in Brazil to avoid having to face the allegations.

Ugaz’s case is all too familiar in Peru, where powerful groups regularly use the courts to silence journalists by fabricating criminal allegations against them. PEN considers the actions against Ugaz to be a violation of her right to freedom of expression, as well as of her civil and political rights.

Please send appeals to the Peruvian authorities expressing deep concern about the lawsuits, threats and ongoing harassment of Paola Ugaz in relation to her work as a journalist, editor and writer; urging the Peruvian authorities to end the judicial proceedings against Ugaz, which effectively stop her investigations and prevent publication of her books; and calling on them to repeal criminal defamation legislation, which limits the right to freedom of expression and impedes citizens’ ability to obtain information and hold their government to account.

Appeals to be addressed to:

Dina Boluarte
President of the Republic of Peru
Twitter: @presidenciaperu

Liz Patricia Benavides Vargas
Attorney General of the Republic of Peru
Av Abancay Cdra 5
Lima
Peru
Email: lbenavides@mpfn.gob.pe
Twitter: @FiscaliaPeru

His Excellency Juan Carlos Gamarra
Embassy of Peru
52 Sloane Street
London SW1X 9SP
Fax: +44 20 7235 4463
Email: postmaster@peruembassy-uk.com

Readers are encouraged to share concerns on social media using the hashtag #PaolaUgaz.

Update: Tibetan writer Lobsang Lhundup (LR, August 2021) was released from Mianyang Prison in early August after completing a four-year prison sentence for ‘disrupting social order’. Lhundub, who writes under the pen name Dhi Lhaden, was secretly arrested in June 2019 and held incommunicado for two years before being sentenced. The writer’s trial was held behind closed doors, without the presence of his friends or family. Those close to Lhundup believe his imprisonment was a reprisal for his having taught Tibetan history at a private cultural centre in Chengdu.

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