Human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) called upon the Peruvian authorities to drop charges against indigenous leader Alberto Pizango on Friday.
The Peruvian government has accused Pizango of rebellion, sedition, conspiracy and other crimes, in connection with violence that broke out between police and protesters last June.
“The charges against Alberto Pizango appear to be politically motivated and must be dropped immediately,” said AI spokeswoman Guadalupe Marengo in a statement issued Friday.
Q’orianka Kilcher, a German actress of Peruvian origin who starred in the American film “Pocahontas,” accompanied Pizango on the flight back to Peru and has also demanded that the Peruvian government drop the charges.
“I’m going to tell people about everything when I return to Hollywood, includng my flight with Alberto Pizango. Many celebrities will get together and want to know what’s going on here,” Kilcher said, according to Peruvian daily El Comercio.
Kilcher has also disseminated her position on the Pizango case through her Twitter account.
The violence that the Peruvian government accuses Pizango of instigating took place last June. The Interethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, AIDESEP in Spanish, led a series of protests over two months against presidential decrees to privatize indigenous territories located in the Amazon rainforest.
The decrees were signed in 2007 and 2008 in order to bring Peruvian law into accordance with a free trade agreement with the United States, according to Chilean daily El Mercurio. The most controversial law, Decree 1090, had not been implemented due to protests from indigenous groups who say the law threatened their control over their lands.
A government commission was established to study the question in August of 2008, but no solution was proposed and protests began anew in April 2009.
Violence broke out between police and protesters when the Alan García administration ordered security forces to break a road blockade in Bagua, a town located in Northern Peru. Sources disagreed over who initiated the violence and how many died, but AI says at least 33 people were killed.
According to AI, protesters killed 23 police officers, including 10 who were held hostage outside of Bagua. Police killed another 10 civilians and at least another 200 people were injured.
Peru’s Congress subsequently suspended the decrees that had prompted the protests and passed a law last month requiring the government to consult with indigenous groups before authorizing concessions that affect their lands.
Though Pizango was not present in Bagua at the time of the violence, in May 2009, he called for an “indigenous insurgency,” a statement he later retracted at the urging of the Peruvian Ombudsman for Human Rights, according to AI.
Pizango subsequently fled Peru and has lived for the last 11 months in Nicaragua. He voluntarily returned to Peru on Wednesday and was briefly detained.
During Pizango’s absence, acting president of AIDESEP Daisy Zapata has called upon the international community to pressure the Peruvian government to drop the charges against Pizango and to recognize indigenous claims to the disputed lands.
“The Peruvian government says that it wants development for indigenous peoples,” Zapata said during a visit to New York University in May. “But what we see are concessions to transnational corporations.”
Zapata testified before Congress on April 29, where she requested that free trade and military agreements between the U.S. and Andean countries be conditioned on respect for human rights and indigenous land claims, according to Spanish news agency EFE.