Prisoners of Conscience in Perú

NACLA Report on the Americas, Sept/Oct 1995

According to Amnesty International, there are several hundred prisoners of conscience (POCs) in Perú, in addition to thousands of imprisoned members of guerrilla organizations. Virtually all these people were sentenced by Perú's "faceless" judges--anonymous individuals, often military officers without legal training, who sit in judgment of detainees accused of crimes of terrorism. POCs are people who have not advocated or engaged in acts of political violence, yet who in many cases have been accused of crimes of terrorism, the definition of which was considerably broadened by the Peruvian authorities two years ago. So far, Amnesty has adopted 70 Peruvian prisoners of conscience, 40 of whom have subsequently been released, mostly on appeal.

The case of the environmentalists Maria Elena Foronda Farro and Oscar Diaz Barboza has become the subject of an international campaign by Amnesty and environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Arrested in September, 1994, the two activists received prison sentences of 20 years for alleged crimes of terrorism. Critics contend that their real crime was organizing grassroots protests against the pollution caused by fish-processing factories in the town of Chimbote. The head of the Peruvian armed forces is a director of one of these factories.

Maria Elena Foronda and many other prisoners were convicted under the so-called Repentance Law, which was in force from May 1992 to October 1994. Under that law, captured members of Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) were able to secure their own release by accusing other people of membership in guerrilla organizations. This led to many false accusations against environmental and community activists who oppose the use of violence--people whom the guerrillas often perceive as enemies. Foronda was imprisoned on the basis of accusations made by an imprisoned member of the MRTA, even though she is a well-known reformist. In the last elections, for instance, she argued that the best way to oppose Fujimori's authoritarian government was to support the candidacy of former UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar.