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Peruvian judge must respect freedom of expression and annul defamation conviction for journalist

Court specialist: Alejandro Ibarra, Magali
The honorable Judge for the Forty-second Criminal Court
Superior Court of Lima
Lima, April 14, 2016

Your honor:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Board of Directors for the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), an independent association that advocates freedom of expression in Peru since 1995, in relation to the criminal proceedings against journalist Rafael León Rodríguez for the crime of alleged aggravated defamation against Mrs. Martha Meier Miró Quesada.

We are deeply concerned by the announcement that Rafael Leon is scheduled for sentencing, according to the resolution signed by your court and dated March 2, 2016, which summons him for sentencing hearing on May 3, 2016.

This is so especially since the object of prosecution is an op-ed article dealing with a political matter, which, in accordance with both the Constitution and international standards which Peru is a part of, can not be limited or punished, much less subjected to criminal prosecution.

Indeed, Rafael Leon made legitimate use of his right to speak freely about people and issues of public interest, so he should not be judged and much less sentenced to serve prison or to pay civil restitution, as required by the plaintiff.

Additionally, IPYS stresses the fact that this case has violated the right to trial within a reasonable time and without undue delay, because your court has summoned Mr. Leon for sentencing almost ten months after the initial hearing. This is the only chance in which the parties have the opportunity to express and discuss directly, their arguments before the court.

A delay of this nature, without proper reason ─ as this is not a complex case─ violates the legal deadline set by the Code of Criminal Procedure and, without prejudice, the right to be tried within a reasonable time. In addition, we have been informed that after proceedings had already started, your court allowed the plaintiff to enter written requests and even an audio file in which the attorney for the defense had allegedly admitted that the defendant Mr. Leon Rodriguez would have incurred in falsehoods in the op-ed article subject of trial.

Given the reasons above mentioned, IPYS supports the request for annulment of the decision which sets a sentencing date, submitted by Rafael León's counsel. We also support the request to set a new hearing date for the proper presentation and discussion of both parties arguments.

We would like to remind you that the admission of such lawsuits is unusual in comparative law, and exposes Peru to an international condemnation similar to the one that occurred with Ecuador in 2012, when the judiciary punished the author of an op-ed article with imprisonment and a large restitution payment.

Finally, we respectfully urge you to exercise your duties in accordance with the canons of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, preventing this case from becoming another example of the violation of this fundamental right.

If such is the case, IPYS will take on Rafael León's case all established legal instances.

Sincerely

Ricardo Uceda
Executive Director

At the express request of the Board of Directors composed by journalists Augusto Alvarez Rodrich (Chairman), Mirko Lauer, Luis Jaime Cisneros, Mabel Cáceres and Pedro Tenorio.

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