Peru protests

Police detain a young man during December 15, 2022 demonstrations in Lima, the Peruvian capital, against the removal and jailing of erstwhile President Pedro Castillo. (Photo: Lucas Aguayo/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Death Toll From Peru Protests Tops 20 as 'Coup' Government Extends Castillo's Jail Term

"The democratic space is closing; we are on the way to authoritarianism," warned a leading human rights advocate in the South American nation.

Peruvian human rights defenders said Friday that the death toll has risen to 21 in nationwide protests sparked by the ouster and jailing of leftist President Pedro Castillo, whose pretrial imprisonment term was extended to 18 months by the Andean country's high court.

"It's becoming clear that early elections will not be enough to quiet the protests."

For the 10 straight day, Peruvians took to the streets of cities and towns across the country, denouncing what many are calling a "coup" against Castillo, while demanding his immediate release, the removal of unelected interim President Dina Boluarte, the dissolution of Congress, and new elections.

Protesters defied bullets, batons, gas bombs, curfews, and a 30-day national state of emergency declared on Wednesday, a move that suspended the right to assemble and move freely about the country.

Demonstrators blocked roads, leading to the deaths of six people in traffic accidents, according toThe Guardian. Peru's El Commercioreports a 12-day-old baby being rushed to a hospital in Lima died due to roadblocks. Protesters also forced the closure of five airports, leaving travelers and tourists stranded in places including near the popular Machu Picchu complex.

In addition to the deaths, at least 426 people, including 216 security personnel, have been wounded in the capital Lima and other regions, the Ombudsman's Office of Peru said.

Reutersreports eight people were killed Thursday as state security forces moved to suppress protests in the southern Andean city of Ayacucho, where demonstrators torched the local judiciary and prosecutor's office. The city's government blamed Boluarte and her defense and interior ministers for the deaths while demanding "an immediate cessation of the use of firearms... against our people."

Citing a flight risk posed by Castillo, a judicial panel of Peru's Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday ordered the deposed president held for 18 months while prosecutors investigate charges of rebellion and conspiracy. Prior to his removal, Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and declare an emergency government in which he would rule by decree.

Castillo denies the charges. On Thursday, his Twitter account posted a handwritten note in which Castillo sounded the alarm over a meeting held the day before his removal at the Government Palace in Lima between Boluarte and U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kenna, a former longtime CIA agent appointed by former President Donald Trump.

The note alleges the meeting "was to give the order to take the troops out into the streets and massacre my defenseless people; and, incidentally, leave the way clear for mining exploitation, as in the case of Conga, Tia Maria, and others."

Boluarte's office said that Kenna has "reiterated her country's full support for democratic institutions in Peru and for the actions of the constitutional government to stabilize the social situation."

In addition to the United States, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Uruguay have recognized Boluarte's government. On the other hand, leftist leaders of 10 regional nations met Wednesday in Havana, Cuba to "reject the political framework created by right-wing forces" against Castillo.

Earlier this week the leftist leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico issued a joint statement expressing their "deep concern" over Castillo's ouster and imprisonment.

Peru's National Coordinator for Human Rights (CNDDHH) called for an immediate end to the use of force against protesters, blaming the country's "highest political authorites" for the deaths.

Speaking at a Friday CNDDHH hearing, Rafael Goto, a pastor and former president of the National Evangelical Council, called for early elections and said that "there can be no ethical democracy based on murders."

CNDDHH executive secretary Jennie Dador Tozzini claimed at least 147 cases of arbitrary detention, telling the hearing that "when our lawyers went to police stations, they were not allowed to pass."

Press freedom advocates also condemned attacks on journalists. Zuliana Laines Otero, who heads Peru's National Association of Journalists, said during the hearing there have been 69 such incidents during the protests.

"The freedom of journalists to report is fundamental in a democracy and even more so in a moment of political crisis like the one Peru is experiencing," Human Rights Watch said in response to the arrests.

Dador emphasized that "the right of defense must be exercised from the moment the police arrest you, the democratic space is closing; we are on the way to authoritarianism."

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