Peru must drop charges against Indigenous leader

Amnesty International has urged the Peruvian authorities to drop unsubstantiated charges against a prominent Indigenous leader, who was detained on his return to the country this week after almost a year in Nicaragua.Segundo Alberto Pizango Chota is accused of being responsible for violence between Indigenous rights activists and police, in which 33 people were killed and at least 200 injured in Bagua, northern Peru, in June last year.However, at the time of the violence Alberto Pizango, leader of indigenous rights organization AIDESEP (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana), was in Lima, hundreds of kilometres away.Alberto Pizango has been charged with “rebellion, sedition and conspiracy against the state and the constitutional order”, and “apology of crimes against public order”.”The charges against Alberto Pizango appear to be politically motivated and must be dropped immediately,” said Guadalupe Marengo of Amnesty InternationalOn his return from Nicaragua on Wednesday, Alberto Pizango was detained by police at Lima airport. He was released on Thursday but still faces prosecution.In a statement shortly after his release Alberto Pizango said: “I have returned to my home country of Peru, not only to face the law and demonstrate that I am innocent of the charges made against me, but also to contribute to the necessary reconciliation between Peruvians,”.On 5 June 2009, violence broke out after police officers dispersed a road blockade organized by Awajún and Wampís Indigenous people in a stretch of the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway, known as the Curva del Diablo (Devil’s Bend) leading to Bagua, in Bagua province and Bagua Grande, in Utcubamba province.Among those killed, 23 were police officers and 10 were civilians, including five Indigenous people.Eleven of the police officers were killed while they were held hostage by Indigenous protestors at a petrol station 80km from Bagua near the town of Imacita, Bagua province; 12 were killed during the police operation at the road blockade and the whereabouts of one police officer remains unknown.The evidence for the charges against Alberto Pizango appears to rest solely on a press conference he gave on 15 May 2009 where he called for an “Indigenous insurgence” against the government.At the press conference he clarified that the call for insurgency was a call to the government to annul a series of laws which were being passed without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as a first step to initiating a dialogue as equals.The following day Alberto Pizango and other AIDESEP leaders signed an agreement with the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office retracting the call to insurgence, which was posted on the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s website as well as being reported in the press.”These tragic events were the predictable and preventable result of the continued disregard by the Peruvian authorities of their duty to respect, promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region” said Guadalupe Marengo. “The recent approval by Congress of the Law of Consultation, which is an important step in the right direction, shows that the government of Peru is beginning to understand this. We trust that the President will now promulgate it without further delay.”