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Police raid literary event, injure poet following protest petition

(WiPC/IFEX) - International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is concerned by reports of an assault on the poet Juan Cristóbal during a police raid on a literary event at El Averno cultural centre in Lima on 23 May 2008. As a result of a beating by police and a subsequent tear gas attack, Cristóbal suffered a severe asthma attack and injuries to his abdomen, ribs and nose. This was the third police raid on the cultural centre in recent months and there are fears that the aim of this latest attack may have been to identify writers and artists who had signed a petition calling for the release of Melissa Patiño, a young Peruvian poet who was jailed on terrorism charges from February to May 2008. This incident is illustrative of a wave of attacks on writers and journalists in Peru. Cristóbal is a member of Peruvian PEN and its Writers in Prison Committee.

Cristóbal was attacked by police during a raid on a literary event at a cultural centre in the capital on 23 May. That evening, Cristóbal had gone to El Averno cultural centre in Lima to attend one of the centre's regular literary evenings, on that occasion an homage to Peruvian actor Hudson Valdivia. Cristóbal also planned to talk to patrons about two previous police raids on the centre, on 14 and 28 March.

Around 10:20 p.m. (local time), some 30 national police officers arrived at the centre along with some security guards from Lima Municipality. According to eyewitness reports, they did not have a search warrant and their attitude was aggressive. Patrons tried to prevent the police and guards from entering but they forced their way in and starting demanding identity cards.

Witnessing an assault on the centre manager and his wife, Cristóbal intervened and was himself beaten. The police then released tear gas into the small venue. As a result, Cristóbal had a severe asthma attack, after which he had to be helped out of the centre and taken home. He sustained injuries to his abdomen, ribs and nose as a result of these incidents. Other patrons, including some artists, were also assaulted.

The police reportedly stated that the raid was "a support operation for Lima municipality"; a representative from the municipality claimed that the cultural centre was a "commercial centre" and did not have the required safety certificate. There are fears that the police's intention may have been to identify writers and artists who had signed a petition calling for the release of Patiño ( see ). According to the director of the cultural centre, the reason given for the previous raids in March was to search for "suspicious types and poets" as well as illegal immigrants. During the second raid in March some artists and dancers were arrested.

Attacks on writers and print journalists have been on the rise in Peru over the last year, with a total of 21 attacks recorded by PEN in 2008 to date, most against journalists, compared with 11 such incidents recorded in the first six months of 2007.

A statement by Cristóbal on his assault was published on the blog of Alfredo Pita, also a member of Peruvian PEN and its WiPC (Spanish only):

For background information on Peru, see:

For information on attacks on the press in Peru in 2008, see:

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