Pedro Castillo screenshot
A screenshot allegedly showing Peruvian President Pedro Castillo playing soccer with Roberto Aguilar, a contractor under investigation for corruption. Castillo has threatened two journalists with a criminal defamation lawsuit, demanding they retract reports about the images. (YouTube/Panorama)

Peruvian President Castillo threatens 2 journalists with criminal defamation suit

On April 12, 2022, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo sent a notarized letter to Rosana Cueva, editor and host of the independent TV news magazine “Panorama,” and to José Ignacio Beteta, editor of the independent news website Vigilante, demanding a retraction of recent reporting, according to reports and Cueva, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. In the letter, Castillo threatened to file a criminal defamation lawsuit against the two journalists within 24 hours unless they retracted reporting that described Castillo’s alleged close ties to a controversial public works contractor.

The letter was in response to an April 10 report on “Panorama” and an April 11 report by Vigilante that included photos allegedly showing Castillo playing indoor soccer with a man that the two news organizations identified as Roberto Aguilar. Aguilar, a public works contractor who has secured more than 580 Peruvian soles (US$154 million) in contracts from the nine-month-old Castillo government, is under investigation by the attorney general’s office for corruption, said Renato Canales, news director of Panamericana Televisión, the channel that broadcasts “Panorama.”

Speaking via messaging app, Canales told CPJ that two private investigators hired by “Panorama” and Vigilante had both determined that the person playing soccer with Castillo in the photo was Aguilar. Such fraternizing, Canales said, would constitute a breach of ethics and conflict of interest.

However, in his letter, Castillo denied that the person in the photo was Aguilar and threatened a criminal defamation lawsuit for damaging his “honor and good reputation.” He added: “I will not allow that the abusive exercise of freedom of expression and information, whose sole objective is to destabilize the government that I legitimately preside over, undermines my authority and the trust of the Peruvian people in this government.” 

Cueva and Beteta both told CPJ that they stood by their reporting and would not retract anything. They pointed out that Castillo had refused their interview requests to address the issue. Cueva said she did not know whether Castillo had filed a lawsuit.

Under Peru’s penal code, criminal defamation is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Jaime Idrogo, Castillo’s spokesman, did not respond to a message from CPJ seeking comment. CPJ could not reach Aguilar, but he told Peru’s RPP radio network that he was not the person in the photo published by “Panorama” and Vigilante.

As of April 26, 2022, Castillo has not filed a suit, Adriana León, a program officer with Peruvian freedom of expression organization Institute of Press and Society, told CPJ.