Freedom of Expression

Press release R274/20

Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Grave Concern about the Excessive Use of Police Force against Demonstrators and Journalists and about Arrests during Protests in Peru


November 13, 2020


Washington D.C., The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses grave concern about the excessive use of police force against demonstrators and journalists, as well as about arrests during peaceful protests in Peru. The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the State to guarantee the exercise of the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression and urges it to refrain from making indiscriminate arrests at public demonstrations.


According to publicly available information, on November 9, shortly after interim President Manuel Merino was sworn in, several groups of protesters began to assemble at different points in the city of Lima. The call for demonstrations came after the ouster of then President Martin Vizcarra, after the Peruvian Congress voted last Monday, November 9, in favor of the motion to remove him from office and declared his "permanent moral unfitness."


According to the information received by the Office of the Special Rapporteur, the National Police used tear gas and pellets massively and indiscriminately, injuring demonstrators, in order to disperse the protests. Among them were two young people reported to have suffered gunshot wounds, and people with severe facial and limb injuries from shotgun pellets. National media outlets, including some that cite official sources, have reported that at least 30 people have been detained. These reportedly include a 14-year-old girl who spent the night in detention after being tackled and detained along with her sister, as well as a 15-year-old boy.


It was reported to this office that the police had required several people to sign detention and arrest warrants, in the absence of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and without legal counsel. Police reportedly refused to authorize, in certain cases, communication between detainees and CNDDHH [National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights] lawyers, raising concerns about the right to a defense. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also received reports that plainclothes officers allegedly infiltrated the demonstrations to arrest people, even though they are required to be in uniform and identified. The Office of the Special Rapporteur stresses that infiltration and other similar undercover intelligence activities against demonstrators without a warrant are particularly serious.


In addition, protestors were reportedly ticketed and fined for administrative violations of confinement and social distancing regulations, such as Supreme Decree No. 006-2020-IN, which were issued prior to the president’s removal to protect public health and life during COVID-19. Under this law, fines of S/. 387 nuevos soles were reportedly assessed by equating participation in a protest with the holding of social and recreational gatherings. According to information received, this was done to discourage people from going out to demonstrate, despite the importance of the right to protest to democracy and the existence of less restrictive measures based on criteria of necessity and proportionality, such as the use of masks and social distancing.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur was also informed that at least 26 journalists and photojournalists were assaulted while covering the protests, both in Lima and in other parts of the country. According to the National Press Association (ANP), the media workers who were attacked belong to Grupo El Comercio, La República, Wayka, Exitosa, and Huku Comunicaciones, among others.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that it is the State’s duty to guarantee the exercise of the right to protest, which includes the rights of peaceful and unarmed assembly, association, and freedom of expression. Both in its individual and collective exercise, protest is intended to publicly voice opinions, views, or values expressing dissent, opposition, condemnation, or grievance, as well as to demand the full enjoyment of rights. Protest plays a central role in the defense of democracy. Therefore, States must act based on the legality of public protests or demonstrations and on the assumption that they do not pose a threat to public order.


The fact that some groups or individuals engage in violence during a demonstration does not, per se, make the entire protest violent, nor does it authorize the security forces to break up the protest by using force or to carry out mass arrests. State security operations must be carefully planned under clear protocols that ensure that force is used only in exceptional circumstances, in keeping with the principles of absolute necessity and proportionality. If the use of less lethal weapons is absolutely necessary, it must be appropriate, progressive, and proportional, with strict adherence to human rights, and dialogue must be encouraged.


This Office reiterates that no protest participant may be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained and that States should refrain from engaging in practices of mass, collective, or indiscriminate detention at public demonstrations. In its report on Protest and Human Rights, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur noted that any detention based solely on the act of participating in a public protest or demonstration does not meet the requirements of reasonableness and proportionality established by international standards. The deprivation of liberty during a demonstration has the immediate effect of preventing the detainee from exercising the right to protest and has a chilling effect on participation in public demonstrations. They further stressed that all detainees, their families, and their legal representatives have the right to receive accurate information from the State, in simple, non-technical language, about the reasons for their detention and the place where they will be taken.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur additionally recalls that children and adolescents are also entitled to the right to protest, and that when they are present during protests States must take special and differentiated measures for their protection.


Finally, it should be noted in particular that freedom of expression protects the right to record and disseminate any incident. Media workers covering protests play an essential role in gathering and disseminating information on what is happening at demonstrations, including the actions of the security forces. The Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the State that it must provide journalists with the highest level of protection so that they can perform their work freely and keep society informed about matters of significant public interest.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur Especial calls on the authorities to order the immediate cessation of the disproportionate use of force by State security forces and to protect journalistic activity. It reiterates that the actions of the National Police in maintaining public order must be in strict compliance with international standards governing the use of force under the principles of exceptionality, proportionality, and absolute necessity. Furthermore, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the Peruvian State to engage in effective and inclusive dialogue to address the legitimate demands of the people, with the utmost respect for human rights and within the democratic framework of the rule of law.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.