Walter Aduviri Calisaya, paying the price for defying the mining sector

*Update: Walter was released following the suspension of his prison sentence by the Supreme Court of Justice of Peru on December 9, 2020

In Peru, even protecting UNESCO listed world heritage sites can earn you a prison sentence, if you dare stand up to the all-powerful mining sector, as the story of Walter Aduviri Calisaya proves.

In 2011, the government granted a mining concession to the Canadian Bear Creek Company on the territory of the Aymara, an indigenous group who lives in the southern Puno department. The community consultation process had been inadequate. Worse, the project involved the destruction of the sacred Apu Kaphia mountain and put the whole territory at serious risk of having its waters polluted, including the famous Lake Titicaca, one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. After years of the Peruvian government neglecting the Aymara, this proved too much for the community, who launched large-scale protests that became known as the “Aymarazo”. Walter, the son of a poor local family who had become a charismatic leader, was a figurehead of the peaceful movement.

Walter and his community won: their peaceful protests led the government to finally revoke the exploitation permits. At the same time, the authorities made sure that Aymaran leaders understood that defiance comes with a price. After more than eight years of judicial processes, on 14 August 2019 Walter, president of the Popular Front for the Protection of Puno Natural Resources, who had in the meantime been elected governor of the department, was sentenced to six years in prison. The Court considered him to be the "non-executive coauthor of the crime of riots" during the “Aymarazo”.

Walter, who is now 44, has been detained in the Yanamayo prison, Puno, since August 2019. Retaliation against him is ongoing. Even though the prison lacks minimal health standards, the Peruvian justice system has recently rejected his request to be released from custody, exposing him to a high risk of Covid-19 infection.

The arbitrary detention of Walter Aduviri is just another example of the criminalisation, harassment and abuse of criminal law that are regularly employed to subdue human rights defenders in Peru, a country where individuals who peacefully defend their ancestral rights and strive to protect our environment are too often labelled as “enemies of development”. Currently, 936 human rights defenders are criminalized, the vast majority of them in connection to their work on land and territory.

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