Peruvian journalists are criminally denounced by the government for allegedly revealing state secrets

The news team of the Sunday newscast Panorama was criminally charged by the Peruvian Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi after publishing a official secret documents that allegedly show evidence of embezzlement of resources of the Army Intelligence Service. The journalists could face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for the crime of treason.

According to the blog of journalist Karina Novoa, who was in charge of the report in question, the government complaint is for “crime against the State and National Defense, attacks against security and treason, in the form of aggravated disclosure of national secrets.”

The journalistic report, published on April 17, 2016, reported an irregular accountability of the expenditure budget for the intelligence of the Peruvian Army during the month of September 2015, made in the troubled area of the Valley of the rivers Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro (known as the VRAEM). Narcotrafficking and terrorism activities, like those of the group Sendero Luminoso, converge in this area.

“Ghost collaborators, inflated bills, unjustified expenses and deficiencies in the intelligence” within the Special Command of the VRAEM is what the report denounced, that according to Valakivi reveals intelligence plans.

According to Novoa, the report consulted an authentic, original and numbered document (of 204 pages about the management of resources in the VRAEM during the month of September 2015), with stamps and signatures of approval from senior members of the VRAEM.

The report was published just days after a terrorist ambush in the VRAEM in which 10 people died, eight of them soldiers.

The document with these data is classified as a state secret. However, César Astudillo Salcedo, Major General – Inspector General of the Peruvian Army, is interviewed in the article in the official military headquarters known as El Pentagonito and responds to questions in front of cameras about the alleged expenditure irregularities shown in the secret document.

According to newspaper La República, Rosana Cueva, journalistic director of Panorama, which is broadcast on Panamericana TV, said that the report does not reveal location of bases, weapons, or plans [of intelligence], only alleged corruption by state officials.

“We are calm because it is absurd, legally [the complaint] should not proceed, but we will go to subpoenas. We will not run,” Cueva said.

The Press and Society Institute (IPYS for its initials in Spanish), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Council of the Peruvian Press, IDL-Reporteros, among other freedom of the press organizations, argued that the complaint seeks to frighten and intimidate Panorama to cover up illegal acts, hiding behind the form of state secrets.

Also, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Anthony Bellanger, said that the organization demands “full respect for their constitutional right not to disclose their sources and we appeal to the good sense of the head of the Ministry of Defense.”

“Such a denunciation tarnishes the government’s reputation and threatens to send a journalist to prison for simply doing their job,” Bellanger said.

The Peruvian journalist and lawyer Rosa María Palacios said in her blog that the Defense Minister was legally bound to make the complaint because the Panorama report revealed classified documents.

If Valakivi and his attorney did not make the complaint, they could have been denounced by the prosecution for “failure to report,” Palacios said.

Also, Minister of the Interior, José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, claimed that Valakivi had the official obligation to make the complaint.

“It is a purely judicial, legal and logical issue, the minister Jakke Valakivi had to think of defending the work of the Armed Forces,” he said to newspaper La República.

Nevertheless, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Aldo Vásquez Ríos, said to La República that this case should bear in mind the values of freedom of expression. For Vásquez Ríos, “the courts must rule on the relevance of the complaint.”

Roberto Pereira of IPYS said to Panorama that what is at risk in this case are the rules that govern any democratic system, jeopardizing journalistic work and the right to public information.

“The constitutional court has said in several statements, no information that is linked to the Defense department, with military activities, qualifies as a state secret, despite having the seal of “State Secret,” The Minister of Defense was unable to say what has changed [with the publication of this report] in terms of national security, because it has no base,” Pereira said.

Kela León of the Peruvian Press Council, in an interview with Panorama, said that the wording of the complaint of the Minister of Defense is unacceptable, a dangerous throwback to the culture of secrecy.

The support of the complaint is not consistent with the provisions of the Constitution, or the law regarding disclosure of state secrets or national security,” she said.

Claudio Paolillo, president of the Commission of Press Freedom of the IAPA, told Panorama that there is no doubt that this report is of public interest.

“I think this falls into the culture of secrecy, which is another story, and that affects Latin America as a whole. The leaders in our countries unfortunately believe that when they assume power, they are not accountable.”

The Federation of Journalists of Peru and the Journalistic Ethics Foundation called for various organizations and the general public to march on July 7 in protest of the government complaint against the journalists of the Panorama report.

The march plans to travel to the headquarters of the prosecution.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.