Peruvian journalist’s defamation conviction overturned

New York, April 2, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes a recent decision by a Peruvian appeals court to overturn the criminal defamation conviction against a journalist who reported on local corruption.

On March 19, an appeals court overturned the decision against Teobaldo Meléndez Fachín, a radio journalist in the town of Yurimaguas, saying it found “substantial errors” in the earlier conviction and gaps in the plaintiff’s evidence, according to news reports. Meléndez had been given a three-year suspended prison sentence and a 30,000 soles (US$11,047) fine in November for reporting that a local mayor had misused a 5.5 million soles (US$2,024,415) government loan, according to news reports. The February 11, 2011, story was broadcast by Radio La Ribereña and Ribereñas Noticias TV.

In the report, Meléndez said that Juan Daniel Mesía Camus, the mayor of Yurimaguas, had used the loan for public works projects that benefited his own political allies. The mayor said the reports were wrong and filed a complaint in July, saying the journalist had damaged his reputation.

Journalists in Peru have repeatedly been targeted with criminal defamation complaints for reporting on local corruption. On July 21, congress approved changes in the penal code that eliminated jail terms for defamation while increasing fines and community service, a development that CPJ called an important first step in dismantling the archaic criminal defamation laws used by public officials to silence critical reporters. However, before leaving office July 28, former President Alan García sent the bill with some modifications back to congress, where it has been awaiting a vote ever since, according to local press group IPYS.

“Although we are pleased by this decision, we are concerned that criminal defamation provisions remain on the books in Peru,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Peruvian authorities to approve the long-stalled bill that would eliminate jail terms for defamation and to bring the country’s law into line with international standards on freedom of expression. Journalists should not fear prison sentences for critical reporting.”