By MAMAMIA TEAM
For most of us, a spontaneous trip to the South American country of Peru would be welcome.
But for these six young Australians, going to Peru is an order and not a choice.
Eighteen months ago, Sydney’s Sam Smith, Harrison Geier, Andrew Pilat, and Melbourne’s Jessica Vo, Hugh and Tom Hanlon were on the holiday of a lifetime, travelling around South America.
After a few days hiking in the Peruvian Andes, the group – who are now known as the ‘Peru Six’ – returned to the Peruvian capital of Lima and decided to treat themselves to a nights in a two-bedroom hotel room.
And that’s where all the chaos began.
The group checked into the hotel at around midday. Later that afternoon they went down the street to buy groceries. When they returned at 3pm, they were relaxing in different areas of the room when they heard a thud.
Looking out of the balcony window, they saw a body on the ground.
The body was that of Rodriguez Vilchez – the hotel’s 45-year-old doorman. Early reports suggested Vilchez committed suicide from the hotel’s rooftop.
Earlier this week, the group of six spoke to the ABC’s 7:30 program. Jessica Vo – the only female in the group – told reporter Adam Harvey that the groups interview with police was the first indication that something wasn’t right.
“The following day we had a visit from the last police officer who came in and we were supposed to be providing our official statements. At that time we felt a little bit uneasy because he was questioning if we knew anything more, which obviously we didn’t, and that’s when alarm bells started ringing,” Vo told the ABC.
The group left Peru the following day after contacting the Australian Embassy to report their concerns. They continued their travels but months later – when they had arrived back in Australia – they realised that the ordeal wasn’t over.
This is from the group’s Facebook page:
In June 2012, three months after we all had returned home from our trip we found out through YouTube that the family of the late doorman were accusing the six of us of murdering him and were campaigning to have us brought back to Lima to receive punishment for the alleged crime. The family had no evidence to support their accusation, however over the past year we have been fighting a legal battle in the Peruvian courts to prove our innocence.
During this time we have kept the lawsuit close to our chest, during what has been an emotionally challenging period. We have been sure to respect the Peruvian judicial system to date however now is the time to call out the injustice we are facing and ask for the public’s support in our fight for freedom.
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The brother of Vilchez apparently believes the six Australians pushed the 45-year-old to his death from their 15th floor hotel room after he went visited the room to complain about noise levels.
The six youths were named as suspects in the murder of Vilchez, after a police investigation reportedly found evidence that he could have been pushed.
Sam Smith, Harrison Geier, Andrew Pilat, Jessica Vo, Hugh and Tom Hanlon each deny those accusations.
They were recently subpoenaed to Peru to appear in court, but applied to give their statements via a video link in Australia instead. But yesterday that application was rejected and they have again been ordered to go back to Peru.
This again is from the group’s Facebook page:
We are gutted and completely blown away by the bad news we have received from Peru overnight.
We have been told by our lawyers that the Judge has refused our appeal to provide our statements from Australia. He is setting new dates for us to appear in court in Lima in August. He has yet to formalise the decision (do the paperwork) as the Peruvian Judicairy has just gone on an indefinate strike.
This is a huge setback and totally unacceptable and unreasonable. We will keep you posted on our plans on what we do next but we will need all of you[r] support.
If the group refuse to return, an Interpol arrest warrant could be issued. But if they do decide to attend court, their concern is that they won’t receive a fair trial.
“The Australian Government have been really supportive of what’s happening with as much as they can do on their side,” Jessica Vo told Today a few weeks ago.
“I guess at this point we’re just really wanting to make sure that everyone understands that we are completely innocent and that we have followed due process in this case,” she said.
You can find more information about the Peru Six and how you can support their cause on their Facebook page.