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Gossip journalist and producer serving jail time for defamation

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a CPJ press release:

PERU: Gossip journalist and producer serving jail time for defamation

New York, October 17, 2008 - Peruvian gossip reporter Magaly Medina and producer Ney Guerrero Orellana were sentenced to prison terms on Thursday after a Lima court found them guilty of defamation. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal convictions and prison sentences as a contravention of international standards for free expression.

Lima's 27th Criminal Court found Medina, host of the nightly gossip show "Magaly Te Ve" on national television station ATV and owner of the weekly magazine "Magaly", and Guerrero, her producer, guilty of defaming Peruvian soccer star Paolo Guerrero. Medina was sentenced to five months in prison and Guerrero three months, according to Peruvian and international press reports. The court also ordered the two journalists to pay Paolo Guerrero 80,000 soles (US$26,000) in damages, according to press reports. Medina and Guerrero were taken into custody immediately after the sentencing. The journalists' lawyer, César Pérez, said he planned to appeal, Radio Programas de Perú reported.

The case stems from a series of photographs and videos of Paolo Guerrero at a Lima night club, which were aired on "Magaly Te Ve" and printed in "Magaly" in November 2007. According to press reports, Medina alleged that the player had been out drinking early the morning of a match between the Peruvian and Brazilian national soccer teams. An investigation by the Peruvian Soccer Federation found that the photographs had been taken days before, local press reports said. In February, Paolo Guerrero filed a criminal defamation lawsuit, claiming the journalist had insulted his honor and ruined his reputation, the daily "El Comercio" reported.

"This verdict shows that Peru is now out of step with the regional consensus to decriminalize defamation," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's Americas Senior Program Coordinator. "Defamation cases should be heard in civil courts, not criminal courts that hand down jail terms. We call on the appeal court to overturn this conviction and free Magaly Medina and Ney Guerrero Orellana."

Laws that criminalize speech are incompatible with the rights established under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which Peru has ratified. As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stated in 1994, "Considering the consequences of criminal sanctions and the inevitable chilling effect they have on freedom of expression, criminalization of speech can only apply in those exceptional circumstances when there is an obvious and direct threat of lawless violence."

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom around the world.

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