New York, May 10, 2002—A Mexican newspaper publisher appeared on Wednesday, May 8, before a public prosecutor in Mexico City to respond to criminal defamation charges brought against him by a local politician.
Alejandro Junco de la Vega, president and publisher of the Mexico City daily REFORMA, was charged over an article alleging that Carlos Galán Domínguez, a member of the Mexico State Chamber of Deputies, had received improper payments from the Chamber.
On September 17, 2001, REFORMA reported that the Grand Commission of the Mexico State Chamber of Deputies had issued irregular payments totaling 969,000 Mexican pesos (US$101,789) to seven deputies, including Galán. The article, written by reporters Enrique I. Gómez and Humberto Padgett, noted that Galán had denied having received the bonuses.
Galán filed criminal defamation charges against Junco and the two reporters. If convicted, all three journalists could face up to three years in prison.
The Mexico City prosecutor who conducted the initial hearing will now return the file to the Mexico State prosecutor in charge of the case. The state prosecutor could decide to submit the case to a judge, who could then issue arrest warrants for the three journalists, REFORMA's manager of legal affairs, Eugenio Herrera Terrazas, told CPJ.
"Mexico's free press will suffer lasting harm if this case moves forward." said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "We strongly urge Mexican authorities to drop the charges against Junco, Gómez, and Padgett."
Another criminal defamation case against REFORMA, this one filed by former Mexico City mayor Rosario Robles Berlanga, is currently being investigated by the Mexico City Attorney General's Office.
Robles brought charges against Junco and Carolina Pavón, a reporter with the paper, over an April 12, 2001, cover story in which Pavón reported on official allegations that almost 10 percent of the mayoral administration's 2000 budget had gone missing.
In a letter protesting the charges that was sent to President Vicente Fox Quesada on May 22 of that year, CPJ wrote, "We find it outrageous that Robles should make a criminal matter of her objections to a factual report on a matter of obvious public interest. CPJ believes that no journalist should ever be jailed for his or her work. Freedom of expression is guaranteed to all Mexicans under Article 6 of the constitution; in our view, Mexico's criminal defamation laws violate this basic right."
In its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States states that, "The protection of a person's reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest."