In Peru, two journalists handed suspended jail terms

Two Peruvian journalists in the central Peruvian city of Ayacucho who had reported on alleged government corruption were convicted of criminal defamation, fined, and handed suspended jail sentences in two separate cases on October 21, 2013, according to news reports.

Esther Valenzuela Zorrilla, editor of the Ayacucho daily newspaper La Calle, was convicted of defaming Ernesto Molina Chávez, president of the surrounding department of Ayacucho. In a series of 2010 reports, Valenzuela alleged that Molina had mishandled contracts and public money budgeted for the construction of a new public hospital. An Ayacucho judge handed Valenzuela a two-year suspended sentence and ordered her to pay a US$380 fine (1050 nuevo soles), as well as about US$9,000 (25,000 nuevo soles) in damages to Molina.

La Calle investigations editor Rosario Romaní, told CPJ that Valenzuela was appealing the conviction.

In a separate case heard by a different Ayacucho judge, La Calle columnist Canchari Sulca was convicted of defaming Magno Sosa Rojas, dean of the local chapter of the National Journalists Association and a former aide to current Ayacucho department president, Wilfredo Oscorima. In a series of 2012 columns, Sulca criticized Oscorima for delays in building the new Ayacucho hospital and claimed that local journalists, including Sosa, had defended and covered up for the politician. Sulca, who also intends to appeal the ruling, received a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay Sosa about US$1,000 (3,000 nuevo soles) in damages.

Both Molina and Sosa have denied the accusations made by the two La Calle journalists, according to the Lima-based press freedom group Institute for Press and Society.

The sentences were handed down shortly after Tony Rolando, president of the Supreme Court in Ayacucho, had hinted in a news conference that Valenzuela and Sulca would be convicted, according to IPYS.