A street outside Peru's Congress in Lima as pictured on August 27, 2021. In Huaura, north of Lima, a judge and a former judge have sued journalist Carlos Yofré López over his reporting. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)

Peruvian journalist Carlos Yofré López convicted in one criminal defamation case, on trial in another

Bogotá, August 31, 2021 – Peruvian authorities should drop criminal defamation charges against journalist Carlos Yofré López and prosecutors should not contest López’s appeal of his conviction in a separate criminal defamation case, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Both cases allege criminal defamation due to the journalist’s investigative work.

In one case, López, a reporter for the independent Radio Antena 9 and Facebook-based news website Barranca Noticias in the Pacific coast province of Huaura, is being sued for criminal defamation by Juana Caballero, an appeals court judge in Huaura, according to his lawyer Eva Gomera who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. The suit was filed in 2018 but had its first hearing on August 12 after numerous delays, according to a statement on Facebook by Peru’s National Association of Journalists, or ANP.

Caballero claimed that López damaged her reputation after he reported on Radio Antena 9 and Barranca Noticias that Caballero may have accepted a bribe to overturn the corruption conviction of a local politician and that, as a judge, her assets had increased by 600% within a year, according to the ANP. CPJ called Caballero for comment but no one picked up the phone.

Caballero has asked the court for the journalist to be served with a three-year prison sentence and to be ordered to pay 100,000 soles (US$25,000) in damages, according to Gomero

In a separate case, López was convicted of criminal defamation on August 5 on the basis of a complaint by Victor Reyes, the former president of Huaura’s superior court of justice. López was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term and ordered to pay Reyes 50,000 soles (US$12,500) in damages, according to a copy of the sentence provided to CPJ by Gomero.

Reyes’ case alleged that the journalist defamed him after he reported in 2018 for Barranca Noticias and wrote on his personal Facebook page about a sexual and workplace harassment complaint against Reyes that was being investigated by the government during his period as judge, according to Gomero.

According to the ANP and news reports, Reyes was suspended from the court following an August 2020 report by a government judicial oversight body that examined the harassment complaint and recommended that Reyes be fired.

Gomero told CPJ that López is appealing the conviction. Reyes did not respond to CPJ’s text messages seeking comment.

“These lawsuits, by active and former members of Peru’s judiciary, show how criminal defamation charges are being abused to intimidate reporters,” said CPJ Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “The outstanding criminal defamation charges against journalist Carlos Yofré López must be immediately dropped, and prosecutors should not block his appeal of his conviction of criminal defamation. Peru should reform its defamation laws to prevent this kind of misuse.”

Gomero told CPJ that she submitted an official request to the court to move the jurisdiction of both defamation cases to Lima, the capital, because she claims that López cannot get due process in Huaura. She pointed out that the presiding judge in the case involving Caballero is a colleague and subordinate of the plaintiff. In addition, the current president of the Huaura superior court posted an open letter on the court’s Facebook page on August 12 criticizing López and his journalistic methods.

“This amounts to judicial interference,” Zuliana Lainez, secretary general of the ANP, told CPJ via messaging app.

CPJ called the press office of Peru’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights seeking comment but there was no answer. The superior court of Huaura did not respond to a phone message left by CPJ.

CPJ was unable to reach López because he is in police custody after he was arrested in July for his alleged failure to pay child support, according to a post from the Facebook-based news outlet Barranca Digital. Gomero told CPJ that López has paid off his debt but that they have been unable to secure his release.