Peruvian journalists file constitutional complaint for protection, say demands to reveal sources are 'illegal'

Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti, director of IDL-Reporteros, and his colleague and cofounder Romina Mella, presented a constitutional complaint for protection before the Constitutional Court of the Superior Court of Justice of Lima, for the continuous and aggressive demands toward their news site. In less than a week, authorities demanded up to three times that the news site reveal its sources and deliver material from its most recent journalistic investigation into the judicial system, which has led to the resignation of at least nine officials.

Mella told the Knight Center that they have filed this constitutional complaint for protection "precisely to prevent the actions of the Attorney General and the Congress, which aim to get us to turn over our material, for us to reveal the identity of our sources and (...) this is unconstitutional, it’s illegal.” Mella added that for IDL-Reporteros, this demand from authorities is unacceptable and they "will not allow it to happen.”

With this request for protection, the journalistic site has constitutionally denounced the Oversight and Control Commission of Congress, the Attorney General’s Office and the prosecuting representatives of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office for Internal Oversight, and the First Specialized Corporate Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Crimes of Corruption of Officials in Lima, according to documents delivered by the site to the Knight Center.

For IDL-Reporteros, what is demanded by the representatives of these entities must be banned by the Constitutional Court in order to avoid further damage to its fundamental rights. It also asked for the case from the congressional commission to be closed.

"What is worrisome is that the new Attorney General, Pedro Chávarry, who took office this Friday (July 20), said in an interview the night before, on the Phillip Butters program on WillaxTV, that he is going to investigate the leak of information," Mella said.

"In other words, he is assuming the position of the Attorney General and the first thing he announces is not to go deeper into investigating those involved in the investigation, but to investigate the investigators. So this request (for protection) is even more important to be able to stop this,” the journalist emphasized.

Since July 7, IDL-Reporteros began to publish an investigation in installments that has revealed a series of alleged acts of corruption in the Peruvian judicial system that involve judges, congressmen, businessmen and journalists. “Corte y Corrupción” (Court and Corruption) was the first report of the series and a product of the analysis of telephone wiretap recordings that the reporters received from sources.

According to the complaint, if the application for amparo is accepted, the Attorney General’s Office must adopt the necessary measures to prevent its representatives from making demands of the journalists from IDL-Reporteros, in particular to the journalists of the investigation in question.

If the office does not adopt the necessary measures, there is a danger of censuring the journalistic work in the country and thus undermining criticism and journalistic denunciation, both necessary for democracy, the media outlet claimed in its application.

The media outlet also requests that both the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office for Internal Oversight and the congressional oversight committee refrain from requesting that the IDL-Reporteros journalists disclose their sources and informational materials used in their investigations.

"The raison d'être of our media outlet is to be a collaborative media outlet. We believe that this case is one of the most important cases of corruption in the justice system," Mella said. She added that they will continue to publish and investigate and that she is confident that with the coverage and publication collaboration that they are receiving from other media in the country "the changes and reforms that must be made in the justice system" may finally be generated.

"Peruvian and international media and citizens have been very supportive of us. For us it has always been important to make collaborative alliances, and we are doing it in this case especially," Mella said. The weekly news program Cuarto Poder, Panorama, the Canal N news channel, the newspapers El Comercio and La República have been publishing the IDL-Reporteros investigative series.

Mella commented that in the coming days, publications will be exclusive to IDL-Reporteros, but that later, many others will continue to be published in a collaborative alliance with several other media in the country.

According to the journalist, one of the lawyers who worked on the preparation of the complaint said that the first instance of the process should not last more than a month. The lawyer considered that they should receive a judgment in the first instance in a maximum of three months. If the Constitutional Court rules against the complaint, IDL-Reporteros would go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and subsequently to the Court of said body, the lawyer said, according to Mella.

Legal support for the complaint comes from Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 200.2 of the Political Constitution of the State and article 37 and beyond of the Constitutional Procedural Code.

After the publication of the first installments of the journalistic investigation, the first to ask for the audio recordings and the revelation of the sources was prosecutor Rodrigo Rurush of the First Specialized Corporate Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Crimes of Corruption of Officials in Lima, according to IDL-Reporteros. On July 11, Rurush went to IDL-Reportero’s offices without warning, without a court order and accompanied by four police. He attempted to get the reporters to reveal their journalistic material and to seize it, Gorriti told media after the event.

Prosecutor Rurush went on the orders of prosecutor Norah Córdova, who was later separated from the investigation of audio recordings leaked to the journalists because her husband appeared in one of the recordings in which he asks for work favors from the president of the Second Transitory Criminal Court of the Supreme Court, Judge César Hinostroza, according to La República. In an audio published in the first installments of IDL-Reporteros' investigation, Judge Hinostroza is heard negotiating the sentence of a person accused of raping a minor.

On July 12, Gorriti was called to appear before the Oversight and Control Commission of Congress to reveal their sources and deliver the audio recordings. He did not attend, arguing that this appeal was in violation of his rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and reservation of professional confidentiality, mainly.

Also, on July 12, he received an official letter issued by the then-head of the Supreme Prosecutor for Internal Oversight, Víctor Rodríguez Monteza, who gave them three days to reveal their sources. Outgoing Attorney General Pablo Sánchez asked the prosecutor's office to rescind its request. Rodríguez Monteza subsequently appeared in one of the audios published by IDL-Reporteros and, at the request of the new Attorney General Pedro Chávarry, resigned from his post on July 23, according to Correo.

On July 20, at the request of the President of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, Congress approved the reform of the National Council of the Magistracy (CNM) and the removal of all its councilors, who may have also participated in acts of corruption, according to El Comercio.

Since IDL-Reporteros began publishing its investigation into audio recordings that revealed alleged acts of corruption in the Peruvian justice system, at least nine officials have resigned from their positions, according to El Comercio. Among them are the Minister of Justice, Salvador Heresi, the president of the Judicial Branch, Duberlí Rodríguez, the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Callao, Walter Ríos, and four of the seven CNM councilors, before the Congress approved its total removal last Friday.