Freedom House deplores defamation penalty in Perú

Freedom House, the independent democracy watchdog, has decried the harsh sentence handed down to Peruvian blogger José Alejandro Godoy, whose conviction on defamation charges resulted in a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 days of community service, and a fine of over $100,000.

The case was brought by a former minister and congressman, Jorge Mufarech, in response to a blog post that referred to alleged instances of corruption by Mufarech. Godoy claimed that he had merely summarized information already publically available, while providing links to more detailed information.

“This harsh sentence serves as a reminder of the ongoing issue of criminalized libel and defamation in Perú and other Latin American countries and sets a bad precedent that could lead to greater self-censorship,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “Such criminalization is incompatible with the obligations to protect freedom of expression contained within the American Convention on Human Rights.”

The case follows a series of threats to freedom of expression in Peru in recent years. Stigmatization of the press by politicians, attacks and intimidation of journalists at the local level, and the closure of radio station La Voz de Bagua in 2009 are among the constraints on press freedom that have contributed to Peru’s score decline in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press survey over the last several years.

The Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House said it hopes that the sentence will be reexamined on appeal. Freedom House called on Peru to decriminalize libel and defamation and act to protect freedom of expression in all its forms, in keeping with its international obligations.

Peru is ranked free in “Freedom in the World 2010,” Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and partly free in “Freedom of the Press 2010.”

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