Peruvian investigative journalism site IDL-Reporteros received three requests this month from judicial and legislative authorities to reveal its journalistic sources after publishing a report revealing alleged acts of corruption in the Peruvian judicial system.
The most recent was on July 12, when the prosecutor Víctor Raúl Rodríguez Monteza, head of Supreme Prosecutor’s Office for Internal Oversight, gave a three-day ultimatum to IDL-Reporters to reveal its sources and deliver full audio of telephone wiretapping recordings they received that were the subject of the journalistic report “Corte y Corrupción” (Court and Corruption), published on July 7. If the sources were not revealed, the notification indicated, the journalists would be prosecuted for the crime of resistance or disobedience of authority, El Comercio reported.
Journalist Gustavo Gorriti, director of IDL-Reporteros (a long-time GIJN member), was defiant: “I will not deliver (the information requested) in three, thirty or 300 days. One of the fundamental missions of a supreme prosecutor is to guard human rights, among which is the right to information.”
But on July 15 the investigation had been called off. Rodríguez Monteza excused himself from continuing to head the investigation , according to a statement on the public prosecutor’s Twitter account. And not long after Rodríguez Monteza ordered Gorriti and journalist Rosana Cueva to reveal their sources and deliver the audio material of their journalistic investigation, the Attorney General of the Nation, Pablo Sánchez, asked the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office to rescind its request, according to La República.
The pressure on the government had mounted quickly.
Rodrigo Villarán, lawyer and executive director of the Peruvian Press Council had told the Knight Center earlier in the week that the order from prosecutor Rodríguez Monteza constitutes abuse of authority, which is provided for in Article 376 of the Peruvian Penal Code.
“This is an illegal order that violates fundamental rights recognized by the Peruvian Constitution and international agreements ratified by the Peruvian State,” Villarán explained. In paragraph 8 of article 2 of the Constitution, it states that everyone has the right to keep professional secrecy, he added.
The audio recordings included in the journalistic investigation of IDL-Reporters reveal a series of alleged irregularities and acts of corruption in conversations held between current congressmen, ministers and supreme judges – like that of Judge César Hinostroza, now restricted from leaving the country, who is heard negotiating the sentence of a rape case of a 10-year-old girl.
“We are revealing the deepest corruption in the highest levels of the justice system. People of the justice system are doing everything possible to counterattack supposedly using the law to try to see everything we have about them,” Gorriti said, while assuring that he will continue with the investigation.
The first attempt to seize the journalistic material of the investigation took place on Tuesday, July 10. A prosecutor accompanied by four police arrived at the offices of IDL-Reporteros to have the journalists display the journalistic material and to seize it, according to El Comercio newspaper.
The visit was suspended due to the lack of a court order to back it up. “What happened to us with the prosecutor was practically a trap. He arrived without any warrant that gives him the authority to do it,” Gorriti said, affirming this was a clear attempt at intimidation.
“What happened yesterday (July 10) is an openly illegal act,” said Carlos Rivera, a lawyer at the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) when he was interviewed on the state TV channel TVPerú.
The Press and Society Institute (IPYS, its initials in Spanish) immediately rejected the irregular and overbearing incursion of prosecutor Rodrigo Ruruch at the offices of IDL-Reporters for “damaging the right to freely report.” The organization noted that the public prosecutor’s office cannot coerce a media outlet to display informative material or to reveal direct or indirect sources.
The second attempt to demand the disclosure of their sources and the handing over of the audios came from the Oversight and Control Commission of Congress, as IDL-Reporters published on its website. Both Gorriti and Cueva, director of the journalistic program Panorama that aired the audios of the report, were summoned on July 12 to appear before that commission.
Both declined to attend. In her written response to the citation from Congress, Cueva justified her refusal by invoking Article 8 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which protects the right of all social communicators to reserve their sources of information, notes and personal and professional files, published newspaper Perú21.
She also mentioned Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression,” which also includes the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of all kinds.
For its part, the IACHR expressed its concern regarding the summons received by the journalists from the public prosecutor’s office and Congress.
Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, recalled that “the confidentiality of sources is an essential element of the work of a journalist and of the role that society has conferred on journalists to report on matters of public interest.”
“In most of the cases that I have investigated over the years, and I do not refer to the work I did under dictatorship, that was a totally different thing … what they (the judiciary) asked you for for was additional information, background, etc., that could help their own investigations. Of course, in those cases, I have collaborated, also colleagues who worked with me, in all those aspects that would not jeopardize the confidentiality of the sources or the integrity of the investigation,” Gorriti said.
“This is the first time in a long time in which what they want to know is not only everything I have investigated but also my sources and, of course, to know what else I have for investigation,” he added.
National and foreign journalists, journalism organizations and civil society have shown their support and solidarity with IDL-Reporters. For example, the Foreign Press Association in Peru and the National Council of the Peruvian Press have publicly condemned the acts of intimidation and harassment that journalists from the aforementioned media outlets have been facing in recent days.
Gorriti said he was grateful for the support he has received from the press and citizens, towards him and his team. “We work for the people, for civil society. If I can have satisfaction after these long years of journalism it is to see that people react with indignation but at the same time with a lot of affection and solidarity.”
“In Peru we experience a damaged democracy and we are certainly not the only country in Latin America that is in these circumstances,” Gorriti said. However, he considered that there are still certain democratic guarantees within the Judicial Branch, the Attorney General’s Office, etc.
“There are virtuous pockets of honest prosecutors, judges and policemen. So, although now there may not be a real balance of powers, we have an extremely weak executive that tries not to antagonize the fujimorista majority, the fact that we are still a democracy, that we have elections, that we will continue to have them, that there is investigative journalism, that there is a civil society that has the capacity to mobilize, it accounts for a great difference from what it was in other times,” he said, referring in the latter to the years of the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori (1990- 2000) and his advisor Vladimiro Montesinos.
During Fujimori’s years in office, Gorriti carried out numerous investigations into Montesinos. In 1992, he was abducted by a Peruvian intelligence squad who held him in secret; he was only released after international pressure. He left Peru for the United States and only returned to the country in 2001.
IDL-Reporteros was the first Peruvian news site to denounce the alleged influence peddling of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht with state officials from several governments of Peruvian presidents such as Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), Alan García (2006-2011), Ollanta Humala (2011- 2016) and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2017). The worldwide corruption scandal and corresponding investigations are referred to as Operation Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash).
“Now we’ve gone from Lava Jato to Lava Juez (Judge), deep down I’m sure we’re going to find A’s relationship with B, but for now we’re moving on Lava Judge,” Gorriti concluded.
This post first appeared in the blog of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and is reproduced here with permission.
Paola Nalvarte is a Peruvian journalist and photographer in Austin, Texas, who focuses on covering the Andes region. In Peru, she worked for Italian news agency ANSA, on the economic news desk of the daily Expreso, and for ten years has worked on various projects doing picture editing and research for one of the world’s oldest Spanish-language papers, Peru’s El Comercio.