Controversy In Peru Over a Macro-trial Against Shining Path 20 Years After The End Of The Armed Conflict

Nora Osco and her partner had managed to fall asleep. After a while, she heard what sounded like a knock on the door. The shock woke him up and made him jump out of bed. She could not imagine that seconds later a horde of policemen would forcibly break into her home and take her and her husband into custody with their 8-month-old baby in their arms.

The destination of both was the Directorate Against Terrorism (Dircote), a specialized unit of the Police dedicated to counter-terrorism operations, despite the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission indicates in its final report that the armed conflict ended in 2000. Nora and her partner were not alone.

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As the hours passed, more people were arrested and transferred to the same police headquarters. That day they added a total of 77 arrested. The agents could not locate 10 other people who are also part of the investigation – 87 are investigated. All are accused of belonging to or affiliation with terrorist organizations. This Monday, Judge Rafael Martínez has ordered preventive detention for 53 of them, nine under house arrest and 15 under restricted liberty regime.

From that day on, the relatives of the detainees remained, in turn, in front of the police headquarters, waiting for the judge to resolve their situation. Nora’s sister, Natalia Osco, assures that her nephew – an eight-month-old baby – was with her mother for almost an entire day in one of the Dircote’s cells.

“This is one of the situations that we denounce as abusive,” says Natalia, one of the spokespersons for the Family Committee for the release of the detainees from the “Olimpo” police operation.

According to the version of the former Interior Minister Rubén Vargas, the Olimpo operation tried to give “the coup de grace” to Shining Path, a guerrilla that was active between 1980 and 2000, and which started the so-called “internal armed conflict” that left at least 69,000 deceased. To this end, the Dircote, with the support of the Police High Complexity Crime Investigation Division, requested to open a preliminary investigation of alleged members of Sendero’s political arms, according to the report presented to the Prosecutor’s Office. This request implied the detention, incommunicado detention and the search of their homes.

This arrest occurred in the midst of the political and social crisis experienced in the country. Francisco Sagasti, temporary president after the resignation of Manuel Merino, had only been in command of a country that was still in suspense for only 15 days. The social protests that occurred after the parliamentary coup and the removal of Martín Vizcarra made an entire country shake. In addition, they left two dead, 300 injured, arbitrary detentions and sexual torture, according to Mar Pérez, a lawyer for the National Human Rights Coordinator of Peru.

At the beginning of his government, Sagasti withdrew 18 generals to quell the criticism accumulated by the police institution, who, from 2003 to the present, have behind their back 163 deaths in contexts of social conflict. But days later, the interim president backed the mass arrest.

The political class did not speak out publicly except for Marité Bustamante and Lucía Alvites, members of the Juntos por Perú party, a formation that will contest the presidency on April 11 at the hands of Verónika Mendoza.

Mireya Torres, a 22-year-old girl, was arrested at her home in Huancayo, in the Junín region. The day she was detained, her parents had traveled. Both she and her younger sister were sleeping when, at midnight, they heard a loud knock on their door. Around ten policemen had entered her home to arrest her.

Mireya was in the last year of her studies at the Faculty of Accounting Sciences of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. At seven in the morning, Mireya’s father, Rude Torres, received the news of her arrest. He rushed to the Huancayo police station but could not see his daughter. Hours later, she was transferred to Lima, specifically to one of the Dircote cells, where she remained until the judge ordered her house arrest for health reasons.

Both in the case of Mireya and Nora, the accusation is based on their participation in meetings, public events, demonstrations or actions such as the dissemination of their activities or the self-management of the groups, which the prosecution qualifies as facades of Shining Path. “My sister is accused of being a terrorist for participating in public events such as acts in defense of women’s rights or for attending a conference called the enemy’s criminal law “, assures Natalia.

His sister belongs to the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared and Victims of Genocide, militancy that he inherits from his family. She participates in the organization because her uncle was one of those murdered by the Peruvian State in the Frontón prison in 1986. One of the goals of the group is to search for her loved ones and give them a dignified burial. In Peru, according to the official registry, there are at least 20,000 missing people, a product of the armed conflict.

The detainees also included members of the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef), such as Alfredo Crespo, defense attorney for the Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzmán. This group seeks the release of prisoners from the internal armed conflict, the restitution of their rights and a new constitution for the country. There are also members of the Front for the Unity and Defense of the Peruvian People, students, the leader of the National Center for Retirees and Pensioners of Peru, several teachers, some artists and seven lawyers, five of whom had defended others denounced by terrorism in the Perseus operation, precedent of Olympus, in 2014, where 28 people were arrested.

The National Coordinator of Human Rights, Mar Pérez, has had access to the police report and affirms to elDiario.es that “there was no evidence to indicate that they were going to commit acts of violence.” He also says that they do not intervene in cases in which there are members of the Movadef because of their sympathy with the Shining Path. Despite this, he expressed reservations about the mass detention, the conditions of confinement and raised the need to broaden the discussion on organizations that have ideologies similar to Shining Path, but that have not committed any act of violence.

“Beyond the position we have as a human rights movement, I think the time has come to raise the discussion of whether simple political or ideological support, without concrete acts of violence, should be penalized,” he adds.

At the request of Olimpo’s relatives, a recognized human rights organization in the country has raised the issue to one of the offices of the United Nations special rapporteurs and to the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. “Several have spent more than two months in police units that are designed to house people for just a few days like the police stations, this constitutes degrading and inhuman treatment,” they say.

Wilfredo Robles is one of the more than 30 lawyers in charge of the defense of the 77 defendants in the Olimpo operation. He is a professor at the University of San Marcos, a center to which several students and professors detained in the operation belong. According to the lawyer, the Prosecutor’s Office argues the crime of terrorist membership or affiliation on the basis that Movadef is part of a strategy to maintain the Shining Path. “But at the same time, he maintains that since 1992, the Shining Path has abandoned the armed struggle. If he abandoned the armed struggle, he cannot be considered a terrorist or the Shining Path, or sympathetic organizations that seek to participate politically in society,” says Robles. Movadef tried to register as a political party, but was rejected by the National Elections Jury in 2011.

One of the problems that some jurists detect is that Peruvian legislation does not specify which specific acts are considered terrorist and “they take advantage of this legal vacuum to accuse anyone for the crime of terrorism,” Robles argues. A report of the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism 2010 expressed its concern about the situation in Peru and recommended modifying the anti-terrorism legislation so that rights violations such as that of assembly, opinion or expression are not committed.

For the lawyer, who has taken other cases of terrorism, criminal types of terrorism and other legal figures are used to criminalize protests: “Sometimes it is terrorism, other it is riots, contempt for authority or crime against property” and attributes it to the persecution of the political discrepancy that still exists in Peru.

Dynnik Asencios, sociologist and researcher at the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP), comments that this operation serves as a thermometer to evaluate the degree of preparation that Peru has to discuss pending issues of the armed conflict, for example, “what do we do as a society with the prisoners of the conflict who have already served their sentences and have been released during recent years, “he points out, alluding to the fact that several of the detainees are also former politicians.

The Andean country, which commemorates its bicentennial this year, has not yet managed to overcome the post-conflict, and to that is added one of the most serious political crises since the return to democracy, corruption scandals, an uncertain electoral campaign and the health emergency.

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