Freedom of Expression

Press Release R113/10









Washington D.C., November 15th, 2010. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the announcement for pronouncement of judgment scheduled for November 17, 2010, in a criminal defamation case against elected mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán, as part of a criminal process for the alleged crime of defamation against Jorge Mufarech Nemy, former Minister of Labor under Alberto Fujimori.

In 2009, Susana Villarán published an opinion article on an Internet portal recalling the 2004 criminal complaint that she and several other individuals filed against Mr. Mufarech, accusing him of acts of corruption committed in his capacity as Minister. On August 10th, 2009, Mufarech Nemy filed a criminal complaint against Villarán de la Puente, alleging the offense of aggravated defamation arising from that publication.

The criminal complaint of corruption originally formulated by Villarán had already caused Mr. Mufarech to file a previous criminal complaint, and in October of 2006, the judge of competent jurisdiction issued an order finding the case inadmissible. However, on September 8th, 2009, the same judge based on the same facts opened a criminal case against Susana Villarán for the offense of aggravated defamation. On October 22nd, 2010, the trial court judge summonsed Villarán to the pronouncement of judgment proceedings "…on notice that if [she] fails to appear, [she] may be held in contempt of the court and a warrant may be issued for [her] arrest…"

The Office of the Special Rapporteur has expressed its concern over the application of defamation crime in Peru against individuals who have limited themselves to denounce or express critical opinions of those who hold or have held public office. The act of denouncing or expressing opinions against public servants or persons who have held public office is broadly protected under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. This type of expression cannot, under any circumstance, be qualified as an act of criminal defamation based solely on the fact that the person called into question feels offended. Individuals who hold or have held public office have a duty to withstand a higher degree of criticism and questioning, precisely because they voluntarily assume the administration of important public responsibilities. The use of the criminal law to silence criticism or denunciations is a serious infringement of the right to freedom of expression of not only the defendant but also of society as a whole.

Accordingly, principle ten of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights establishes that: "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."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the competent judicial authorities of Peru to consider the international standards on freedom of expression currently in effect when rendering their decision in the case of Susana Villarán, as well as on any upcoming criminal libel processes regarding giving out denounces or critiques against public servants or persons of public relevance.

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