The staff of the Peruvian news website Wayka are seen in a Zoom meeting. A congressional candidate recently named two Wayka staffers in a criminal defamation suit. (Photo: Luciana Távara)

Peruvian congressional candidate files criminal defamation suit against 2 journalists over coverage of sexual harassment allegations

Bogotá, March 8, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a criminal defamation lawsuit filed against Peruvian journalists Graciela Tiburcio and Luciana Távara, and called on Peru to reform its laws to drop criminal penalties for speech.

On February 25, Victor Hugo Quijada, a Peruvian congressional candidate, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Tiburcio, a reporter at the news website Wayka, and Távara, an editor at the outlet, after the website published a story earlier that day alleging he had sexually harassed minors, according to a report by Wayka and Távara, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

In the lawsuit, which CPJ reviewed, Quijada alleges that Tiburcio, who wrote the story, Távara, and three of the alleged victims caused “irreparable damage to my honor and good name.”

Quijada and the defendants will be called before a criminal court judge, where Quijada will argue for the judge to accept his suit, and the court will decide whether to dismiss the suit or allow it to proceed, Távara said.

If convicted, the journalists could face up to three years in prison, according to Article 132 of Peru’s criminal code. Quijada is also seeking 550,000 soles (about US$150,000) in damages as well as the freezing of the journalists’ bank accounts, according to the lawsuit.

“The criminal defamation lawsuit Victor Hugo Quijada filed against Wayka journalists Graciela Tiburcio and Luciana Távara for their reporting on allegations of sexual harassment is clearly aimed at silencing and intimidating the press and its punitive nature has no place in a democracy,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “It is imperative for Peru to scrap criminal defamation from its books, aligning with growing international standards on freedom of the press.”

The Wayka article alleges that Quijada sexually harassed at least five high school students, and cited two police complaints filed against him for sexual harassment. The article includes interviews with alleged victims, and cites dozens of text messages that Quijada allegedly sent to the students. In the story, Quijada denied the allegations.

Távara told CPJ via messaging app that Wayka plans to countersue Quijada for criminal defamation, because in his lawsuit he claims that Wayka tried to blackmail him by demanding $10,000 in exchange for not publishing the story.

“We never publish a story without having all the information and evidence that we need,” Távara told CPJ. “But we are all very worried about this.”

Quijada had been affiliated with the opposition Nationalist Party in his run to win a congressional seat in the April 11 general elections, but on February 26, after Wayka published its story about Quijada, the Nationalist Party released a statement expelling Quijada from the party and demanding that he withdraw his candidacy.

Quijada did not respond to several text messages and an email from CPJ seeking comment.