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Peruvian newspaper facing huge fine for comments about public official

This statement was originally published on sipiapa.org on 1 June 2016.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at legal action by a public official in inland Peru against the newspaper Perú 21 and its editor, Juan José Garrido, saying it seriously restricts freedom of the press in the South American country.

The libel suit against Garrido and the newspaper seeks damages amounting to approximately US$230,000 payable to Félix Moreno Caballero, president of the Callao Regional Government. He said he was offended by the caption of a photo that read "magistrates are said to have shown favouritism to him." This was published as part of the context of a preliminary report by the Internal Control Office of the Callao Attorney General's Office that criticized four public prosecutors and a judge for not having investigated Moreno Caballero.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, expressed surprise that a lawsuit had been filed concerning certain matters and, especially, that it comes from a public official who, according to principles of freedom of expression, should be more tolerant of criticism and public vigilance.

The lawsuit based its arguments on a ruling by Peruvian Press Council's Ethics Tribunal which had declared Moreno Caballero's complaint to be founded. Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, added that while it does not fall to the IAPA to make value judgments about what voluntary journalistic bodies consider, "the judiciary has the obligation to adhere to the national and international body of laws that imposes restrictions on the intention of publications and on public officials. In this case Perú 21 published a report of public interest made by public officials who should be transparent before those who elected them, and this is what the judiciary should feel the weight of."

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