Journalist detained and charged with defamation

New York, December 20, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly protests the detention on Friday of Mexican journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. She was released on bail on Saturday and faces criminal defamation charges.

Cacho, a columnist for the Mexico City-based weekly magazines Día Siete and Tentaciones, was arrested around noon while she arrived at the offices of Centro Integral de Atención a la Mujer (CIAM), a center for victims of domestic violence and rape in Cancún, according to local press reports. Cacho is the center’s director.

Puebla state police, backed by local agents, took Cacho into custody and drove her more than 20 hours by car to Puebla, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away. She was jailed at San Miguel State Prison. Judge Rosa Celia Pérez González of the Fifth Criminal Court in Puebla released Cacho a few hours later after the journalist posted bail of 106,000 pesos (US$10,000).

The judge based the arrest warrant on Cacho’s alleged failure to answer an earlier summons in the defamation case, Cacho said in an online article published by Mujeres en Red. But Cacho wrote that she never received the summons, adding that “an arrest warrant cannot be issued without making sure that the accused has received the summons.”

The underlying defamation case is based on a complaint filed by Puebla-based clothes manufacturer José Camel Nacif Borge, the Mexican press said. In a book released in May titled, “The Demons of Eden,” Cacho described the activities of a child prostitution ring that she said operated with the complicity of local police and politicians. She alleged that Nacif had ties to an accused pedophile, which the businessman said damaged his reputation.

Cacho received numerous death threats after the book was released, and she was provided federal police protection.

“While this arrest raises many troubling questions of its own, the central issue is that journalists should not be facing criminal charges for what they write,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The threat of detention and criminal prosecution on defamation charges seriously affects the ability of the Mexican press to work freely.”

While imprisonment for press offenses has been greatly reduced in Latin America, prosecutions on criminal defamation charges remain common. In August 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced a ruling overturning the 1999 criminal defamation conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, a reporter with the daily La Nación. The Costa Rica–based court ruled that the sentence violated his right to freedom of expression and ordered Costa Rica to pay damages to him. The court’s president, Judge Sergio García Ramírez, wrote a separate, concurring opinion questioning the criminalization of defamation and suggesting that such laws should be repealed.