Peruvian radio host jailed on defamation charges

New York, June 10, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Wednesday’s sentencing of radio journalist Oswaldo Pereyra Moreno to one year in prison on criminal defamation charges in San Lorenzo, northern Peru, according to local news reports and CPJ interviews.

The charges against Pereyra, host of the show “Hora 13” on Radio Macarena, stemmed from a September 2009 broadcast about an illegal abortion allegedly given to an unnamed 14-year-old girl in a local pharmacy, the reporter told CPJ.  The story was also published by the Iquitos-based newspaper La Región, María Isabel Pérez, a journalist for the paper, told CPJ. The newspaper has not been sued. 

A local judge found that Pereyra had harmed the reputation of the young woman’s stepfather, José Montenegro, who was named on the show, and sentenced the host to one year in jail along with a fine of 10,000 Peruvian soles (US$3,500), prosecutor Yrving Vazquez told CPJ. Pereyra is being held at a police station in San Lorenzo, and will be transferred to a detention center in Iquitos next week, Vazquez said. Pereyra told CPJ he will appeal the conviction to a higher court.

“We urge the Peruvian judicial authorities to reverse Pereyra’s conviction on appeal,” said CPJ Americas Program Senior Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Peruvian authorities must immediately implement reforms to eliminate these archaic defamation provisions, which run counter to international standards on freedom of expression.”

Pereyra is the second journalist jailed on defamation charges in Peru this year, CPJ research shows. On January 14, a local court sentenced Alejandro Carrascal Carrasco, a reporter with weekly Nor Oriente in the Amazonian city of Bagua, to one year in prison in connection to a series of articles he wrote in 2005 alleging corruption in a local public education institute.

There is an emerging consensus in Latin America that civil remedies provide adequate redress in cases of alleged defamation. In December 2009, the Costa Rican Supreme Court eliminated prison terms for criminal defamation. One month earlier, in November 2009, the Argentine Congress repealed criminal defamation provisions in the penal code. And in April 2009, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal annulled the 1967 Press Law, a measure that had imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander.

Courts in Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile have recently followed the growing regional consensus against criminal defamation.