Peru frees journalist jailed for defamation

New York, October 31, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release on Saturday of Peruvian journalist Paul Segundo Garay Ramírez, a television and radio news show host who had been imprisoned for more than six months. Citing flawed evidence, the Supreme Court on Friday overturned Garay’s conviction on charges of defaming a prosecutor in Coronel Portillo, according to news reports.

“The release of Paul Garay is welcome but long overdue,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We now call on President Ollanta Humala to work with Congress to eliminate prison penalties for defamation and to ultimately decriminalize libel and slander entirely.” On July 21, Congress approved changes in the penal code that eliminate jail terms for defamation while increasing fines and community service as sanctions for libel. The bill awaits the signature of Humala, who assumed office that same month. 

During Garay’s trial, prosecutor Agustín López Cruz presented an undated radio clip that he alleged was from November 2009. In the clip, he claimed, Garay insinuated the prosecutor was engaging in corruption and had sexually harassed young litigants. The prosecutor alleged that Garay had called him an “erotic dwarf.” Garay denied the voice on the tape was his, said he didn’t work at the station at the purported time of the broadcast, and said he believed the charges were in reprisal for his reporting on corruption.

Garay, who was imprisoned on April 19, has been host of the two news shows: “Polémica” on television station Visión 47, and “La Voz del Pueblo” on radio station La Exitosa.

Garay was sentenced to three years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 sols (US$7,150). On July 27, a court of appeals in Ucayali upheld the sentence but reduced the prison term to 18 months. The defense argued the appellate judge had a conflict of interest because she had sued Garay for defamation in 2007, Habcut Penadillo Chávez, Garay’s lawyer, told CPJ.

In September, chief prosecutor Pablo Sánchez Velarde presented a report to the Supreme Court that found deficiencies in the evidence presented in the case, including a lack of clear proof that the voice on the recording belonged to Garay. No technical test was conducted to authenticate the audio, according to press reports. Based on this evidence, the prosecutor recommended the Supreme Court void the conviction.