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Journalist fined, harassed in run-up to appeal hearing in defamation case

(RSF/IFEX) - On 27 May 2010, a Lima court was due to begin hearing an appeal by Lima Airport Partners (LAP) CEO Jaime Daly Arbulú against a court ruling in March ordering journalist Herbert Mujica to pay him 2,000 soles (approx. US$690) in damages for alleging serious irregularities at Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport.

Daly appealed because he thought the damages award was too low. The hearing will be the latest stage in a drawn-out legal battle for Mujica, a writer and political analyst who edits the Páginas Libres website and writes the "Señal de Alerta" column for the site. He is also the author of the 2007 book "¡Estafa al Perú! ¡Cómo robarse aeropuertos y vivir sin problemas!" (Swindling Peru: how to rob airports and live comfortably).

The suit that the powerful LAP brought against Mujica accused him of "aggravated defamation" in various articles and investigative reports about alleged irregularities in LAP's management of the Lima airport concession, which was awarded to the company by the government. Mujica and his family claim they have been the target of various forms of harassment throughout the legal battle.

"We are concerned about the harassment and threats that Mujica says he has received in connection with this lawsuit," Reporters Without Borders said. "We also fear that an excessive damages award would encourage self-censorship and deter journalists from reporting on a major scandal."

The press freedom organisation added: "We urge the judicial authorities to be reasonable and to take into account the relative strength of the parties to this dispute. We also call on the authorities to guarantee Mujica's protection regardless of the outcome of this appeal."

Raúl Wiener of the daily "La Primera" and César Lévano, the newspaper's editor, are also awaiting trial in connection with their coverage of LAP. Wiener was questioned on suspicion of terrorism 16 months ago when he reported that terrorism charges had been brought against 13 leading leftists.

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