Freedom of Expression

Press Release R88/10






Washington, D.C., August 30, 2010—The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the one-year prison sentence handed down by a Peruvian court on August 5 against journalist Fernando Santo Rojas, for the crime of aggravated defamation against the mayor of the municipal government of Satipo.


According to the information received, in addition to the prison sentence, the First Mixed Court of Satipo fined the journalist 25% of his income for 120 days and ordered him to pay 2,000 New Soles (around U.S. $713) to the plaintiff. The prison sentence was conditionally suspended, but Santos Rojas was sentenced to one year of probation. He will have to present himself to the court at the end of every month "to control and justify his activities," he will not be able to leave the area without authorization from the judge, and he must rectify the information and opinions he voiced about the mayor. The journalist appealed the judgment.


The case, as the Office of the Special Rapporteur has learned, began in June 2008 when, speaking on a radio program, the journalist questioned the capacity, ability, and transparency of the Mayor of Satipo, a town located 440 kilometers east of Lima. During the trial, Santos Rojas reiterated his assertions and claimed that he did not defame the mayor but limited himself to giving his opinion about the official, based on facts that are well-known.


The judgment in this case seriously limits the journalist’s freedom of expression by preventing him from referring to matters of public interest in which the municipal government is involved and by restricting his freedom of movement to seek information, due to the risk of violating the conditions for the suspension of the prison sentence.


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have established repeatedly that freedom of expression must be guaranteed not only for ideas or information that may be received favorably or considered inoffensive or indifferent, but also for those statements that may offend, clash with, disturb, be disagreeable to, or upset the State or any segment of the population. Moreover, messages related to matters of public interest or about public officials in the exercise of their duties should enjoy special protections. In addition, both the IACHR and the Inter-American Court have stated categorically and repeatedly that opinions cannot be subject to subsequent imposition of liability.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the competent judicial authorities in Peru to take into account prevailing international standards in the area of freedom of expression in the final resolution of the case involving the journalist Fernando Santos Rojas.


Principle 10 of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression establishes the following: "The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. In addition, in these cases, it must be proven that in disseminating the news, the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news."


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