Peru: Poet faces up to 20 years in jail

English PEN  protests in the strongest terms the continuing imprisonment of the 20-year-old female poet Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza. Detained since 29 February 2008, Patiño is accused of being an accessory to terrorist activities, stemming from her alleged involvement with a leftwing political organization which the Peruvian government claims is linked to terrorist groups. The poet denies any political affiliations and, almost two months on, the authorities have still not produced any concrete evidence to back up the charges against her. Patiño is being held in a maximum security prison with severely limited privileges, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. 
Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza, aged 20, poet and business administration student, is a member of ‘Círculo del sur’ (Southern Circle) poetry group in Lima and runs a poetry programme on radio as well as cultural activities with young people. She was detained on 29 February 2008 when returning from a conference in Ecuador organized by the leftwing political organization Bolivarian Continental Coordinator (Coordinadora Continental Boliviariana – CCB; see below for more details). Patiño was subsequently charged with being an accomplice to terrorism on the basis of her attendance at the congress of CCB, which the Peruvian authorities claim is linked to terrorist groups in Peru and abroad. The poet denies being involved in any political groups, and has said that her main motivation for attending was the opportunity to travel to Ecuador. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.
Almost two months on, the authorities have yet to provide any concrete evidence to back up the terrorism charges against Patiño. According to her lawyer, the accusations have been made on the basis of Patiño’s alleged membership of the Peruvian chapter of the CCB, her attendance of the CCB congress in Ecuador and her participation in a march at the end of conference. During the march, she is said to have partially covered her face and shouted anti-imperialist and pro-socialism slogans, and to have been linked to graffiti criticizing Alan García, the Peruvian president, according to a 13 March document issued by the Public Prosecutor. None of these activities can be said to amount to terrorist activities.
Patiño is currently detained in the Santa Monica maximum security prison in Chorrillos, Lima. Her privileges are severely restricted: she is being held with convicted criminals, is locked up alone in her cell for 20 hours a day without access to radio or television, is not allowed to exercise outside or to speak to prisoners under a different regime, is only allowed visits from family members once a week, and has only very limited access to a public telephone. The poet is said to be in low spirits and suffering from anxiety, which has caused her some related health problems such as stomach pains. She has reportedly not been provided with access to medial assistance or psychological evaluation. Although Patiño has not suffered any physical abuse, there are fears of reprisals against her following a 20 April visit by Patiño’s boyfriend, when he was ordered to leave after threatening to make a complaint about a prison guard’s behaviour.
Patiño’s case has not been helped by inadequate legal representation in the early stages. However, a Peruvian NGO specializing in human rights cases has now taken the case on. Patiño’s lawyer has requested that she be released a summons to appear in court; the case is due to resume in the first week of May.
The case has attracted widespread media attention and support in Peru and internationally. A petition requesting Patiño’s release to be presented to President Alan García has been signed by more than 1,000 writers and artists, including Noam Chomsky and the Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello. Should you wish to sign the petition, please email with your name, occupation and country of residence.


Additional information

– Patiño was arrested along with six other individuals near the border with Ecuador on 29 February 2008. The seven were returning by bus from Quito, where they had attended the second congress of the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator (CCB) from 24 to 28 February.

– CCB is a public forum that brings together civil society organizations in support of promoting the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ (a political concept entailing Latin American unity and socialism inspired by the current Venezuelan model) across the continent (see The congress, which was reportedly held with the knowledge and consent of the Ecuadorian authorities, attracted some 800 delegates from across Latin America.


– The authorities claim that the Peruvian chapter of the CCB is linked to the Peruvian Marxist rebel group Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA) and the Colombian guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). They have reportedly also accused CCB members of planning to sabotage the Latin American-European Union (ALC-UE) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings to be held in Peru May and November 2008 respectively.


– Two of the six individuals detained along with Patiño are said to be former MRTA members; one of them has previously spent several years in prison for belonging to the organization.


– In the 1980s and 1990s Peru suffered a decade of violent conflict involving left-wing guerrilla groups such as the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru, during which tens of thousands of people died. Thousands were imprisoned on terrorism-related charges in the 1990s without due process or the right to a defence under legislation brought in by former President Alberto Fujimori (now on trial for corruption and human rights abuses). Among those detained were writers and journalists who became Honorary Members of a number of PEN Centres. Some of these laws were declared unconstitutional in 2003 following recommendations for reform by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.


– PEN’s records show persecution of journalists in Peru to be on the rise in recent months, with a high number of threats, attacks and trials. There have also been reports of threats against writers protesting about Patiño’s case.
Further information
Statement by Peruvian human rights organization Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) on the case of Patiño and the six others (Spanish):
Interview with Patiño (Spanish): 
Please send appeals
Calling on the Peruvian authorities:

– To provide evidence to back up the charges of terrorism against the young poet Melisssa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza 

– To order Patiño’s release pending the investigation into the charges, and , should they be founded, enable her to remain free pending trial


– Alternatively, to release her immediately and unconditionally 

Dr. Alan García Pérez
Presidente de la República del Perú
Jr. de la Unión S/N 1ra. Cuadra, Cercado de Lima, Lima, Peru

Salutation: Su Excelencia/ Your Excellency
Minister of Justice
Dra. Rosario Fernández Figueroa
Ministra de Justicia
Ministerio de Justicia, Scipión LLona N° 350, Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Salutation: Señora Ministra/Dear Minister
Human Rights Ombudsman
Dra. Beatriz Merino
Defensoría del Pueblo
Jirón Ucayali 388, Lima-Perú 


It may be more effective, however, to send the above appeals via the Peruvian representative in London:

Embassy of Peru

Ambassador Mr Ricardo Luna
52 Sloane Street
Salutation: Su Excelencia/ Your Excellency

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