A Facebook campaign to dish out vigilante justice in Peru has gone viral – after hundreds of people started posting pictures and videos of themselves catching and punishing petty criminals.
More and more fed-up Peruvians are taking the law into their own hands and recording their often humiliating acts of retribution on their cameras or mobile phones.
The ‘Catch Your Thief’ movement took off after one neighbourhood decided to stop calling the police after a crime, warning they would ‘lynch’ the culprits instead.
Social media users quickly began posting their own home-made footage showing alleged thieves and pickpockets receiving their comeuppance, often at the hands of a baying mob of revenge-seekers.
Punishments range from being stripped naked and whipped in public and being forced to perform tough military exercises to even being force-fed raw chili peppers.
One video shows a woman undressed and being walked through a busy street, with a banner around her neck reading ‘I’m a thief’.
Another shows two whimpering alleged pickpockets being forced to stand on anthills until they beg for mercy as the insects bite their legs, feet and private parts.
The vigilantes claim the public acts of retribution are the best way of deterring would-be muggers or burglars, alleging that people have lost faith in the police to reduce crime.
But others warn that the craze has got out of hand and encourages criminal violence against the alleged offenders, without chance of a trial.
Over 100 similar Facebook pages have appeared in recent months, many with more brutal names, such as ‘Catch your thief and leave him paralysed’, ‘Catch your thief and cut off his hands’ and ‘Catch your thief and castrate him’.
The pages are updated with new videos daily, despite Peru’s penal code ruling up to four years in prison for inflicting bodily harm on individuals, and up to 25 years for causing death.
But with no prosecutions of the vigilantes so far, civilians have no problems being seen brazenly dishing out justice in public acts which have become increasingly violent.
On one page, a young teenager is seen being hit so hard his features become disfigured, while in another a man is held by his legs and arms and struck repeatedly on the back and legs with a pole.
Even so, the campaign continues to gain support across Peru, with a recent survey finding that 53 per cent of the population approve of the new way of dealing with criminals.
The vigilante trend began last month when Cecilia Rodrigues, a housewife from Huancayo, central Peru, helped her neighbour apprehend an intruder who had been found burgling her house.
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