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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

APRIL 22, 2004
Posted: June 16, 2004

Marlene Vaz, Opción Cero

Vaz, an editor and columnist for the Río Branco-based weekly Opción Cero, in the northeastern Department of Cerro Largo, was convicted of defamation and libel and sentenced to 20 months in prison. The presiding judge, Néstor Valetti, suspended her sentence and ordered her to remain under police surveillance for one year.

The sentence also compels Vaz to notify authorities whenever she changes her residence and to obtain permission each time she leaves Río Branco.

The charges stemmed from a series of satirical columns published in Opción Cero between May 2001 and June 2002. In July 2002, lawyer Jorge Antonio Rivas, who is a public official with Río Branco's local council, filed a suit against Vaz claiming that her columns had offended "his honor."

On June 9, with assistance from Asociación de la Prensa del Uruguay (Uruguayan Press Association), Vaz filed an appeal before an appeals court in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.

Rivas claimed Vaz had made several references about him and his wife in Opción Cero's column "Cortitas" (Shorts), without mentioning their names. Rivas said that Vaz used his nickname "Gato" (Cat) to attack him in the columns by implying that Rivas had urinated in the local council, consumed alcohol and drugs, and was involved in corruption, according to local press reports.

Vaz told CPJ that her columns are satirical and that she never made any references to Rivas. The journalist said Rivas is not the only person in Río Branco with the nickname of "Gato." She said the character she mentioned in her publication was fictional.