Archbishop withdraws complaint after Peruvian journalist is sentenced for defamation due to opinion column

After an independent Peruvian journalist was sentenced for defamation, the Archbishop who accused him before the court has presented a request for his complaint to be withdrawn.

Through a statement, the Archbishop of Piura, José Antonio Eguren Anselmi, explained that he rejected the right to defend his reputation for the good and unity of the Christian community, EFE reported.

On April 22, journalist Pedro Salinas was given a one-year suspended prison sentence, 120 days of community service and the payment of a fine for civil damages of 80,000 soles (about US $24,000).

The sentence is the result of an aggravated defamation lawsuit filed by Eguren for the opinion column published by Salinas in January 2018, "El Juan Barros peruano," in the Peruvian blog La Mula.

In the column  – written in the framework of Pope Francis’ visit to Peru  – Salinas writes about alleged physical and psychological abuse on behalf of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SVC), an ecclesiastical community linked to the Catholic Church. In this context, he compares Eguren with the Chilean priest Juan Barros, a religious leader close to the parish priest Fernando Karadima who is denounced for alleged sexual abuse of minors, according to the BBC.

The case and recent sentence against Salinas prompted a quick response from the Catholic community, Peruvian journalism organizations and international organizations.

The Peruvian Episcopal Conference (CEP) also issued a statement regarding the anticipated reading of the sentence against Salinas in early April in which it backed the journalist for seeking to clarify the truth about the actions of the Sodalitium.

Before Eguren’s withdrawal of his complaint was made public, Edison Lanza, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told the Knight Center that it is worrisome that in Peru the criminal law continues to be applied "to resolve possible conflicts over the publication of reports of public interest, as is all the harassment, the eventual and possible abuses by the clergy of the Church. " "Something that has come to light and of which we have become aware in all its dimensions due precisely to the role of the press around the world," he added.

Salinas told the Knight Center, before the Archbishop’s recent decision, that his lawyer Carlos Rivera was going to appeal the sentence before April 26. However, after the request for withdrawal from the religious leader, it has not been confirmed with the journalist what next steps will be taken or what will happen with the case in courts.

Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz was also sued by Eguren for aggravated defamation after she published Tweets about the priest and due to her participation in a documentary about the Sodalitium. Her case is still pending and the prosecution requested three years of suspended prison and a civil compensation of 200 thousand soles (about US $62,000). She and Pedro Salinas wrote the 2015 book “Mitad monjes, mitad soldados” (Half monks, half soldiers) on the history of the Sodalitium.

"So far, I continue with the process and now I have more than ten notarized letters sent to me by the bishop of the Sodalitium," Ugaz told El Comercio newspaper. "If he (Eguren) has that attitude with Pedro, he should also give up on my case," she added, saying that she feels relieved at the news regarding her colleague and friend's case.

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