In Peru, the Court ‘Used as a whip’ to silence journalists

Cop a reporter’s raid house after he investigates an elite Catholic society. A court has ordered the assets of the following journalists to be frozen defamation complaint from a powerful figure. A sports journalist called the head of a football club Drunk, and was sentenced to one year in prison.

And then, last week, a judge sentenced a Peruvian journalist to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine following a defamation lawsuit filed by a powerful, wealthy politician.

Media experts called the decision the most immediate threat to freedom of expression in Peru in years. And, they say, it’s part of a disturbing trend across the region – but particularly strong in Peru – in which powerful figures are using the courts to intimidate and punish investigative journalists. surname.

Ricardo Uceda, head of the Peruvian Institute of Journalism and Society, said: “It completely strays away from the basic principles of free speech.

The politician in this case, César Acuña, is the subject of journalist Christopher Acosta’s book, called “Plata Como Cancha,” which means “Cash in Barrels.”

In the book, Mr. Acosta cites multiple sources who have accused Mr. Acuña, a millionaire who ran for president and now heads a political party, of buy votes, abuse public funds and steal ideas. In his decision, the judge in the case, Raúl Jesús Vega, said that nearly three dozen phrases in the book are defamatory.

Rather than address the veracity of the claims, Judge Jesús Vega criticized the journalist for not being able to adequately support them, in his assessment.

The judge also found Jerónimo Pimentel, the director of the book’s publisher, guilty. And he held Mr. Pimentel and the publisher, Penguin Random House in Peru, also responsible for paying $100,000 in fines that would go to Mr. Acuña.

Mr. Acosta will not go to jail – many shorter sentences are hung in Peru – and the parties are appealing the decision.

But the legal action has fallen as an anvil in the news media in Peru, with many saying it is sure to have a chilling effect on future coverage.

Mr Acosta, who is likely to face a lengthy appeals process, said he sees the lawsuit coming “not just out of a desire to harass a particular journalist, but to send a message to the media.” journalists across the country.”

The message was clear, he said: “Look what could happen to you if you mess with me.”

The case involving “Cash by the Bucket” is particularly disturbing, media experts said, because in their analysis, Judge Jesús Vega significantly raised the reporting limit, finding it insufficient to interview and cite several people with knowledge of the matter when making a report. tie.

Instead, advocates say the judge’s language in sentencing suggests that to be appropriate for release, the information must be checked by a competent authority, such as a national investigation. festival.

But a journalist should not be found guilty of defamation if evidence that they have performed due diligence on the allegations has been published, said Miguel Jugo, a lawyer with Peru’s national press association.

Unlike in the United States and Mexico, where defamation is usually a civil matter, in Peru, it’s a criminal offence, determined is the act of publicly ascribing to another person “a fact, a quality, or an act that may damage that person’s honor or reputation”.

In the “Cash in Barrel” case, Jugo said, the judge ruled that Acosta failed to do this due diligence — something Acosta and many of his allies dispute.

Mr. Acosta is the head of investigations at Latina Noticias, an important television channel in Lima. All of the allegations in his book, he told the Committee to Protect Journalists, are direct quotes from interviews, or from articles, the attorney general’s investigation, or the congressional and legal statements.

Other countries in the region There are similar laws, said Natalie Southwick at the Committee to Protect Journalists. However, she said, Peru has “seen the most convictions in criminal defamation cases.”

According to Peru’s national press association, cases where the justice system was used against reporters increased to 29 a year from 18 a year from 2020 to 2018.

These defamation lawsuits come after years of economic growth in Peru, expanding public coffers – and creating new opportunities for self-dealing among the ruling classes.

In recent years, corruption scandals involving former presidents, judges and lawmakers have fostered a liberal politics for all, with clashes between Congress and the governing body. Law enforcement agencies and mass protests have caused the country to go through four presidents in the past year.

Journalists have exposed many mistakes.

But powerful figures have pushed back, often using the justice system, and in many cases successfully.

Paola Ugaz, an investigative journalist who has repeatedly faced lawsuits and criminal investigations after revealing allegations of sexual and physical abuse in an elite Catholic society in Peru. know.

“Tell me, what publisher would now want to publish a book knowing that they could suddenly be forced to pay $400,000, with a charge to the editor?” she speaks.

A book Ms. Ugaz is writing about the group’s finances has been delayed by two years as she has to focus on her legal defense, she said.

Her reporting partner, Pedro Salinas, received a suspended one-year prison sentence in 2019, following a lawsuit brought by an archbishop. The archbishop eventually withdrew the lawsuit, and a similar lawsuit was filed against Ms. Ugaz.

But earlier this month, authorities ransacked Mr Salinas’ home, saying they suspected him of corruption related to work his public relations firm did years ago.

“The emotional, family and psychological damage has been enormous,” said Ms. Ugaz.

Mr. Acuña, 69, the tycoon who sued Mr. Acosta, became the mayor of Trujillo, as did Mr. Acosta, now 38, who is starting his career as an investigative reporter in the same city. .

For many years, Mr. Acuña made his fortune as the owner of for-profit universities and served as congressman and governor.

Mr. Acuña continues to run for president in 2016 and 2021. He forbidden from the first election after he was caught on camera promised to distribute cash in a poor neighborhood.

By then, he had already entered the polls, after local media reported that he was suspected of plagiarizing part of his doctoral thesis and a book written by a former professor.

The last country’s Intellectual Property Rights Protection Bureau see that Mr. Acuña violated copyright rules in both cases and ordered him to pay fines. But the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, which published the thesis, decision after an investigation it did not find sufficient cause to withdraw it.

Despite the decline in popularity, Mr. Acuña’s party has increased its presence in Congress. Last year, it helped impeach former president Martín Vizcarra, and it is considered crucial to the current president’s political survival, Pedro Castillo.

Mr Acuña denied the allegations in the book and said media advocates had “exaggerated” the possible impact of his lawsuit.

“I say to my journalist friends: Fear not,” he said, “as long as you follow your code, your journalistic code.”

In his view, that press code included the responsibility to “unite the Peruvians, not divide them, as is happening now”.

Ms Southwick, media advocate, pointed to cases in Guatemala and Brazil where powerful people have used the courts to sue journalists, and said the case “reflects a longstanding sentiment among powerful individuals in different countries in the region that they are above monitor.”

Still, she said, “part of being a public official is being willing to take responsibility.” In Peru, the Court ‘Used as a whip’ to silence journalists

Fry Electronics Team

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