Reporters Without Borders welcomes the news that the Lima Supreme Court has dismissed charges against radio and TV journalist Paul Garay Ramírez of defaming prosecutor Agustín López Cruz, for which he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Judge Hugo Príncipe Trujillo ruled that the recording used in evidence was of no value since the voice of the journalist could not be identified. The judge also annulled a fine of 20,000 nuevos soles (7,400 dollars) in civil damages levied against the journalist, who has been in prison since April, and withdrew all charges.
The release of Ramirez is a step forward in the decriminalization of media offences. However, Reporters Without Borders demands that the reform of the criminal code that deals with media offences, approved by the permanent commission of parliament on 21 July, be finally promulgated.
The number of journalists in jail in Peru rose to two when Paul Garay Ramírez, a programme producer for Visión 47 TV and a correspondent for Radio La Exitosa, was sentenced to three years in prison by a court in the east-central region of Ucayali on 19 April for allegedly defaming a prosecutor.
The other journalist currently detained is Oswaldo Pereyra Moreno of Radio Macarena, who was sentenced to a year in prison on a similar charge in June 2010 and is due to be released soon.
The prosecution case against Garay was highly questionable. He was accused of defaming prosecutor Agustín López by criticizing a decision to shelve two corruption cases on the air. The only evidence produced in court was a short recording of a radio station broadcast but Garay denied that the voice in the recording was his and said he did not work for the station at that time.
Aside from flimsy nature of the evidence against Garay, it is outrageous that such a long jail sentence has been imposed for a press offence. Contrary to the trend in most Latin American countries, jail sentences for defamation have become more frequent in Peru in recent years. It violates Inter-American legal standards and encourages the media to censor themselves.
In response to this unjust conviction and sentence, Reporters Without Borders appeals to each of the two candidates in the 5 June second round of Peru’s presidential election – Ollanta Humala et Keiko Fujimori – to give a solemn undertaking to decriminalize press offences if they win the election.
Garay has often covered sensitive stories in the past and made enemies within the local judiciary and political class when he criticised the failure to convict the presumed masterminds of journalist Alberto Rivera Fernández’s 2004 murder in Pucallpa, the capital of Ucayali.
Garay was one of the first journalists to expose the involvement of Pucallpa’s former mayor, Luis Valdez Villacorta, who was eventually acquitted. Reporters Without Borders hopes that Garay’s conviction will be overturned and meanwhile calls for his immediate release.