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Journalist sued by former president is convicted of defamation in Peru

IAPA/Diario 16

On April 18, 2016, journalist Fernando Valencia, former editor for daily newspaper Diario 16, was sentenced to one year and eight months of suspended imprisonment and payment of 100,000 soles (around US$ 35,000 dollars) in favor of former President Alan Garcia, who sued Valencia for defamation in March 2013. William Alexander Lugo Villafana of the 7th Criminal Court of Lima was the sentencing judge. The incident occurred in the capital city of Lima.

Carlos Rivera, legal counsel for the journalist, said such defamation did not take place, as Valencia only reproduced public information regarding the harsh words that President Ollanta Humala had directed towards Alan Garcia and his presidential administration.

In June 2013, Romulo Chira Cabezas, judge for the 9th Criminal Court of Lima had ruled that the complaint was inadmissible.

"It is noted that the news spread by Diario 16, according to its front page, do not express any form of value judgment by the defendant, as described by the headline: “Humala lashes out against the APRA government: Thieves to prison and not in power. President criticizes unfinished work by Alan Garcia administration…" said judge Chira at the time.

In his ruling, Romulo Chira assessed the fact that Diario 16had simply published reports on complaints and facts revealed by a third party. In this particular case, the journal had taken and reproduced statements from President Ollanta Humala.

He further argued that the words of the President "in some cases are referred to criticize certain actions of the complainant (Alan Garcia), in relation to the political and social situation of the moment", something which is protected by the right to freedom of information, contained in Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Peruvian Constitution, and that is understood "as a constitutional guarantee of the democratic system".

Furthermore, this same news was published by other media.

"The complaint holds no ground. It comes as a shock that they have sentenced a journalist for simply doing his job. What Diario 16 did was to illustrate and contextualize the statements from President Humala. This qualifies as journalistic work" said the journalist's lawyer, who confirmed that the ruling will be appealed and, if necessary, they will go as far as the Supreme Court.

For his part, Fernando Valencia confirmed that his defense is preparing a complaint to the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for violating a journalist's freedom of expression.

IPYS is concerned about this sentence, which sets a bad precedent for both freedom of expression and freedom of information in the country.

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