Freedom of Expression

Press Release R123/11







Washington, D.C., November 21, 2011− The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the criminal conviction for aggravated defamation issued by a Peruvian judge against the radio and television reporter Teobaldo Meléndez Fachín on November 7, in response to news stories published by Meléndez Fachín about acts of corruption allegedly committed by a public official.


According to the information received, the Second Miscellaneous Court and Unipersonal Criminal Court of Alto Amazonas Yurimaguas sentenced Meléndez Fachín to 3 years in jail with suspended execution of the sentence, to the payment of 30,000 nuevos soles (approximately US$ 11,100) as civil compensation, and to a fine of 60 days at the stipulated daily rate.  The case stemmed from a news story that ran last February on the radio and television program "La Ribereña Noticias", in which the journalist questioned the mayor of Alto Amazonas-Yurimaguas because of supposed irregularities in the use of public funds. The journalist, who is now the news director of Radio Activa de Yurimaguas, is appealing the verdict.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur acknowledges, though, that the conviction of Meléndez Fachín occurs in a context favorable to freedom of expression, where Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has publicly declared several times that he will respect this right and will not resort to criminal proceedings to inhibit debate on issues of public interest. At the same time, the Congress of the Republic of Peru has analyzed various proposals that would eliminate the crime of defamation, at least for public servants, or replace jail sentences with fines or community service.  In addition, the Supreme Court of Justice reversed a criminal conviction for slander against the journalist Paul Garay in a recent decision.


This Office has expressed on numerous occasions its concern over the charges of criminal defamation brought against those who have denounced or criticized public officials. The tenth principle of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states: "Privacy laws should not inhibit or restrict investigation and dissemination of information of public interest. 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". Also, the eleventh principle of such Declaration states: "Public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as 'desacato laws,' restrict freedom of expression and the right to information."


The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers it important to call to mind Inter-American doctrine and jurisprudence on the subject of freedom of expression and calls upon the competent authorities to take into consideration the relevant Inter-American legal standards.