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Scale of damages sought in recent Peruvian defamation cases cause for concern

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 5 October 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about the scale of the damages awarded or sought in two recent defamation cases against Peruvian journalists and calls on the authorities to decriminalize media offences without delay.

Ronald Daniel Ormeño, the editor of the weekly Prensa al Día, was jailed on 4 September for failing to pay 10,000 soles (2,600 euros) in damages in a libel case brought by Mirtha Nancy Toledo Morales, a lawyer and administrator of a university in the city of Chimbote, over an October 2013 article.

The article, for which Ormeño was also given a suspended sentence of one year in prison, accused her of management irregularities and lying about her qualifications. He was freed two weeks later, after his family and friends succeeded in raising the money to pay the damages, but he is still the subject of the suspended jail sentence.

The other case concerns Milagros Rodríguez Hidalgo, a journalist based in the northern city of Tumbes who reports for the Diario Tumbes 21 newspaper and presents the “En ContactoTV” programme on La Hechicera TV.

Pedro Octavio Mejía Reyes, a senior official in the Tumbes regional government, brought a defamation case against her on 12 September demanding 100,000 soles (26,000 euros) in damages in connection with her coverage in May about alleged corruption within the regional administration.

As a result of her reporting, Rodríguez has also repeatedly received anonymous threatening messages and she says she has been denied access for her coverage of local government matters.

“We reiterate our appeal to the Peruvian government to comply with international standards on freedom of expression by decriminalizing media offences,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF's Latin America desk.

“The damages awarded or sought in these two cases are utterly disproportionate. The cases against Ormeño and Rodríguez are typical of the way powerful Peruvian plaintiffs, often public officials, use the justice system to censor and retaliate against journalists. This sends an extremely negative signal for media freedom in Peru.”

Peru must quickly clarify its position on the criminalization of media offences in order not to continue obstructing the work of journalists.

In another recent case, TV reporter and presenter Rafo León was given a suspended jail sentence on 3 May in a defamation case brought by fellow journalist Martha Meier Miró Quesada. A higher court finally quashed the sentence on 8 September. Meir Miró Quesada is appealing.

The journalist Fernando Valencia was given a 20-month suspended jail sentence on 18 April for allegedly defaming former President Alan García. This sentence was also subsequently overturned, on 9 August.

Peru is ranked 84th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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