Mexico City, January 29, 2020 — Mexican authorities should drop the charges against journalist Sergio Aguayo Quezada and reform the country’s outdated libel laws, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, a Mexico City court ordered Aguayo, a writer and academic who frequently writes about politics in the Mexican daily Reforma, to pay a fine of 10 million pesos ($530,000) in moral damages, to former Coahuila state governor Humberto Moreira or else face the confiscation of his properties, according to news reports. The ruling is a further escalation of a lawsuit filed by Moreira, a former president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, over a Reforma column written by Aguayo in 2016, which accused Moreira of corruption, according to those reports. Aguayo filed an injunction, so there no current deadline set for the payment of the fine until the court has ruled on that.
Mexican civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to civil defamation, concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to CPJ research.
“The sentence in this moral damages case against Sergio Aguayo Quezada sets a dangerous precedent in Mexico, where journalists are increasingly targeted by powerful politicians in multimillion peso lawsuits aimed at silencing critical voices,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Mexico should urgently revise its libel laws and prevent them from being used to intimidate journalists and commentators.”
Aguayo was previously cleared of wrongdoing in the case, but on October 10, 2019, a Mexico City court reversed that ruling in favor of Moreira, according to news reports. A 2016 ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court removed the maximum amount of money that can be imposed as a fine for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines, according to CPJ research.