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In Peru, journalist reveals sexual abuse convicted of defamation

The journalist Pedro Salinas, in front of the media, on April 20, 2019, at the Vatican, on the occasion of a rally of the organization Ending Clergy Abuse.
The journalist Pedro Salinas, in front of the media, on April 20, 2019, at the Vatican, on the occasion of a rally of the organization Ending Clergy Abuse. VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

The investigative journalist Pedro Salinas, who revealed in 2015 a scandal of sexual abuse in the Christian community Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana, was sentenced Monday, April 22 by the court of Piura (north) to one year suspended sentence and 80,000 Soles peruvian (21,500 euros) fine for misdemeanor "Aggravated defamation" after a complaint lodged by the archbishop of Piura, José Antonio Eguren Anselmi.

Pedro Salinas blamed Mr Eguren for his responsibility and silence in Sodalicio. In 2018, he wrote an article "The Juan Barros Peruvian", in reference to the Chilean prelate accused of covering the sexual assaults committed by a priest. "False statements", the Archbishop of Piura, which is prejudicial to " my honor and my reputation.

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However, Mr. Salinas persists and signs, refusing "To be censored" : "No one can deny that Eguren is a member of the founding generation [de Sodalicio], he declares to the world. He participated in the construction of an organization that instituted a culture of abuse. He has not only covered the abuse, he has himself been confused by several sources for physical and psychological abuse. " But his case was never tried and his case was filed in 2016.

" Brainwashing "

Sodalicio is a Catholic organization founded in Lima in 1971 by layman Luis Fernando Figari. The sectarian movement dispensed its educational principles through boarding schools to middle- and upper-class children. " The policy was to separate the children from their family, then the members brainwashed, " explains Cecilia Tovar, a researcher at the Bartolomé Institute in Las Casas, Lima. Known for his severe pedagogy, quasi-military, Sodalicio "Mixed religion with a fascist-inspired operation linked to the Spanish phalanx, as well as tantric practices," says Pedro Salinas, who had joined the movement as a teenager and himself suffered abuse.

In 2000, the first cases of sexual assault surface. In 2007, Daniel Beltran Murguia, a member of Sodalicio, was arrested while trying to enter a hotel with an 11-year-old child, according to him. "Take nude pictures". He is expelled from the organization. Other cases, which this time involve directly the founders of the movement, Mr. Figari or number two of the organization, German Doig (died in 2001), are then revealed.

In 2015, in a survey book (Mitad monjes, mitad soldados, "Half monks, half soldiers", Planeta editions, untranslated), co-authored with the journalist Paola Ugaz, Pedro Salinas compiles more than thirty testimonies of former "sodalites", making case "Sexual, physical and psychological abuse and kidnapping". The Sodalicio case, considered the biggest sex scandal in the country, breaks out.

At least 36 victims

Following the testimony, the Peruvian Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation against Mr. Figari. At the same time, the organization's authorities set up an internal commission to investigate complaints against Mr. Figari and other officials. A report concludes that at least 36 people, including 19 minors, were sexually abused between 1975 and 2002, committed by the organization's leaders.

Condemned by the Holy See in 2015 to a life of penance and prayer, with no return to Lima, Luis Figari now lives in Rome. Faced with the accumulation of evidence, in January 2018, a few days before a visit to Peru, Pope Francis ordered the trusteeship of the organization and a new investigation against Mr. Figari.

Read also Live visit of Pope Francis in Chile and Peru

Yet so far no member has been sentenced, either by the Church or by Peruvian justice. The investigations are still in progress. "The organization should have been dissolved," Pedro Salinas believes. But it is not so. "Sodalicio has spread throughout Latin America and the United States and has a lot of power, including economic power," explains Cecilia Tovar, adding that"It is difficult to know the situation inside Sodalicio today". The current leaders, they say they have cleaned up the ranks and have apologized to the victims.

File classified

On Monday, April 22, Judge Piura Judith Cueva, with a cross on her desk, vindicated Bishop Eguren. She considered that Pedro Salinas no longer had to comment on the Archbishop because the criminal complaint was closed.

The journalist's conviction triggered strong reactions. Marina Navarro, Amnesty International, denounced a statement "Harmful precedent for freedom of expression in the country since it has the effect of punishing those who investigate abuses and human rights violations".

Paola Ugaz, co-signer of Salinas' book, will also face a defamation suit soon, including for tweets written during the Pope's last visit to Peru. "The organization's only response to the revelations of abuse is to file complaints of defamation," the journalist is indignant.

Amanda Chaparro (Lima, correspondence)

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