Award-winning journalist César Estrada’s ongoing legal battle against censorship recently began a new chapter. In May this year, the Peruvian Supreme Court rejected his writ of cassation against a decision of the lower courts to sentence him to 10 years in prison. His case is emblematic of the struggles many indigenous journalists face throughout Latin America.
As a journalist with the Red de Comunicadores Indigenas del Perú – REDCIP (Network of Indigenous Communicators in Peru), César Estrada has worked tirelessly over many years to expose private and governmental corruption and abuses associated with a mining project in the Conga region.
A history of persecution
Starting in 2014, Estrada has had to face baseless, trumped up charges of kidnapping and theft. These related to a dispute between members of his community and representatives of the company implementing the mining project. Although he was acquitted of those charges, a first instance court convicted him for extortion on July 2017 and a second instance court upheld this decision in May 2018.
Over the years, Estrada has not only had to deal with the legal case against him. He has also been subjected to violent attacks and placed under surveillance along with his wife.
His case has attracted attention internationally, particularly from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She has referred to his case as an abuse of the criminal law to discredit people opposing large mining projects.
Estrada’s case, according to the Rapporteur, is one example of the criminalisation of environmental rights defenders in Peru.
Like Estrada, indigenous journalists face criminalization and harassment in various guises throughout Latin America. In the case of Radio Aukan in Chile, the staff there were charged with broadcasting their signal without a licence and succeeded in a constitutional challenge against their prosecution with support from Media Defence. The Inter American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), in the case of Norin Catriman et al v. Chile, recently held that the state had deliberately misused anti-terrorism legislation against indigenous community leaders engaged in peaceful protests against government actions.
Estrada is now working with Media Defence in taking a constitutional challenge to the judgment of the Supreme Court. The basis of this challenge is that he was subjected to unlawful procedural restrictions and his right to freedom of expression was violated.
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