Two Peruvian journalists found guilty of defamation

New York, June 6, 2012–An appeals court in Peru must overturn the guilty verdict handed down yesterday to two Peruvian journalists charged with defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A court in Lima sentenced Juan Carlos Tafur, editor of the daily Diario 16, and Roberto More Chávez, a reporter for the paper, each to two-year suspended prison sentences and a fine of 60,000 nuevos soles (US$22,200) in damages, according to news reports. The case stemmed from More’s January 2011 article in Diario 16 that linked a prominent retired general to a family with alleged connections to drug trafficking.

More reported in the article that Diario 16 had accessed a police document that linked Gen. Antonio Ketín Vidal Herrera, the country’s former Minister of the Interior, to the Sánchez Paredes family, several members of whom have been indicted for money laundering, according to news reports. After the article was published, Vidal filed a complaint, saying the report was wrong and that it had damaged his honor and reputation, according to news reports.

“We condemn this sentence against Juan Carlos Tafur and Roberto More Chávez, and we urge Peruvian judicial authorities to reverse his conviction upon appeal,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Tafur and More are the latest in a string of Peruvian journalists to be convicted under anachronistic criminal defamation provisions. We call on authorities to bring the country’s law into line with international standards on freedom of expression.”

Local press group IPYS reported that at the time of the article’s publication, Vidal was considering running for vice president. According to a report in Diario 16, the judge claimed in the ruling that the defendants had set out to damage the general’s honor by publishing the article during an election season.

The defendants’ lawyers denounced alleged procedural irregularities during the trial, including the fact that More and Tafur had been prohibited from testifying in their own defense, according to Diaro 16. The daily La República reported on Sunday that a judicial anti-corruption unit recommended that the judge in the proceedings be fined in connection with these irregularities. The defense said they would appeal the sentence, according to news reports.

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 on 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 IPYS.

For more than a decade, courts and legislatures throughout the region have found that civil remedies provide adequate redress in cases of alleged libel and slander. Yet some governments in the region continue to use archaic criminal defamation laws to silence dissent. In May, CPJ launched the campaign “Critics are not Criminals” to help fight the criminalization of speech in the Americas.