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Peru: Violent arbitrary arrest of human rights defender Father Marco Arana Zegarra, who may face fabricated charges
On 4 July 2012, Father Marco Arana Zegarra was violently arrested by over 20 riot police in the city of Cajamarca in Peru. Although he was subsequently released in the early hours of 5 July, fabricated charges may be brought against him.
Marco Arana Zegarra is a prominent environmental activist and founder of the Grupo de Formación e Intervención para Desarrollo Sostenible – GRUFIDES (Group of Training and Intervention for Sustainable Development). GRUFIDES works to promote sustainable development through the protection of the environment and the sustainable management of natural resources, with particular focus on respecting human rights.
At present, the primary focus of GRUFIDES is its peaceful opposition to the Conga mining project, of which Newmont Mining Corporation owns a majority share. Some of the main concerns surrounding the project include the lack of consultation with local stakeholders, the lack of independence and scientific basis of the environmental impact assessment and the detrimental impact on the environment as well as at a social and cultural level.
On 4 July 2012, at approximately 12:00 pm, Marco Arana Zegarra was sitting down and holding up two placards that read: “vida y agua sí” (life and water yes) and “oro no” (gold no) in Plaza de Armas in the city of Cajamarca, when he was violently arrested by over 20 riot police. The police officials reportedly failed to issue a warning to the human rights defender before violently setting upon him, throwing him to the ground and kicking and punching him. He was then taken to a police van. No arrest warrant was produced and no reason for the arrest was provided.
Marco Arana Zegarra was taken to the First Police Station in Cajamarca, where he was again beaten and insulted by police. The human rights defender was released in the early hours of 5 July 2012.
The local Chief Prosecutor, Mr Johnny Díaz, reportedly said that Marco Arana Zegarra was arrested for organising meetings, an activity prohibited under the state of emergency currently in place in Cajamarca. The Chief Prosecutor is reported to have assigned a prosecutor to investigate the violence used by police against the human rights defender.
On 3 July 2012 the Peruvian Government declared a state of emergency in Cajamarca for the third time since July 2011 owing to the regional protests against the Conga mining project and as a result of a protest in Celendin that turned violent and in which four people were killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators. The state of emergency limits certain rights and allows police to make arrests without a warrant. It also authorises the military to aid the police in the carrying out of their functions. The Minister of Justice has reportedly said that Marco Arana Zegarra was in Celendin when the violence occurred, and concerns have been raised that the authorities may try to blame him for the deaths, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the violence.
Marco Arana Zegarra was awarded precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on 23 April 2007 in connection with threats made against him by individuals supporting mining activities in the region.
Front Line Defenders condemns the arbitrary arrest of Marco Arana Zegarra and the violence used against him. Front Line Defenders believes that these acts are directly linked to Marco Arana Zegarra's legitimate human rights activities, in particular his opposition to mining activities in Cajamarca Province.