Amnesty International: Peru journalist and peasant community members pursuing a complaint against police for torture “are in grave danger”

Peru journalist Julio César Vásquez Calle and at least 28 members of peasant communities that charged police and Majaz mining camp security guards of torturing them during a quelled protest in 2005 have received menacing phone calls and death threats, Amnesty International reports.

According to Amnesty
, the peasants and Calle, who claims he was brutalized by police and security guards while reporting on a peaceful anti-mining protest, “are in grave danger.”

Calle – who works for the Piura-based Cutivalú Radio – said he received a phone call Feb. 5, 2009, from a man who told him he would be killed unless he dropped his complaint.

“Since when is your job to help terrorists? We are going to make sure that you rot in prison if you don’t withdraw your complaint, if you don’t drop your complaint you will go to prison in pieces,” the unidentified caller reportedly said.

Last January, Calle and Peruvian human rights groups had held a press conference in Peru’s capital, Lima, and made public a series of photographs taken during the torture.

Published and broadcast widely in the Peruvian media, the photos — which were likely taken by police and were anonymously sent to the National Human Rights Coordinator, or CNDDHH — show men and women with plastic trash bags pulled over their heads and their hands tied behind their backs, and police officers posing with some of the women’s underwear.

Immediately after the shocking photos were published, Premier Yehude Simon promised to personally review the torture allegations. Human rights advocates maintain that police have failed to investigate or reveal the names of officers involved.

The victims, at least 28 members from isolated outposts in the northern district of Piura, were kidnapped and brutally beaten by police and the company’s security team in 2005. In Peru, low wage-earning cops often moonlight for private companies, such as mines.

The residents, who had been protesting against the development of the $1.4 billion Rio Blanco project, left their communities a week prior to the kidnappings, and set out, on foot, for the Majaz mining camp. Expecting to meet with a high level negotiating commission, they were instead greeted by police and tear gas-shooting choppers.

Taken inside the camp, stripped of their clothing and blindfolded, the protesters – including two women and a 16-year old – were physically and psychologically tortured. Evidence of this torture has been documented by doctors from Physicians for Human Rights, a NGO that mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all.

Three days of beatings left one dead, and 3 others missing.

The Rio Blanco mining project has been at the center of controversy between environmental NGOs and the mining industry since 2003, when it was approved by the Peruvian state. In a 2007 popular vote, nearby communities overwhelmingly said they did not want the mine developed.

Proponents argue the mine will bring $65 million annually in taxes to the region, badly needed social services, and over 12,000 jobs after its planned start-up in 2011. But critics say it will contaminate the environment and jeopardize agriculture, which fuels the local economy.

The mine was purchased in 2007 by Zijin Consortium of China from London-based Monterrico Metals. Monterrico Metals estimates the Río Blanco project will be one of the largest copper mines in the world during its first five years of operation.

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