Honduran journalist convicted of defamation faces up to three years in prison and a professional ban

In Honduras, investigative journalist Ariel Armando D’Vicente Jarquín, 48, was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of defamation for reporting on a former police chief, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

He was also banned from practicing journalism for the duration of his sentence. The ruling also requires him to pay all expenses that the former police chief, Lorgio Oquelí Mejía Tinoco, incurred for the trial, according to Honduran freedom of expression organization C-Libre.

The sentence of the local judge who convicted the journalist was issued on July 26; however, the notification of the sentence was received a month later by his lawyer, CPJ reported.

In 2016 alone, D’Vicente would be the second Honduran journalist to be sentenced to actual imprisonment for the crime of defamation. The first was David Romero Ellner, who received a sentence of 10 years in prison in March.

D’Vicente, host and director of the news program “Prensa Libre” on Channel 21, reported in 2014 that Mejía Tonoco, then commander of the police in the department of Choluteca, and the police under his charge, received bribes from gangs involved in smuggling contraband cattle, CPJ said.

“We urge Honduran authorities to drop all criminal defamation charges against Ariel Armando D’Vicente and withdraw the ridiculous ban on his work as a journalist,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas at CPJ.

Lauría added that Honduras must decriminalize the “archaic defamation laws” that seriously restrict media coverage of information of public interest.

D’Vicente told CPJ that he would appeal. Regarding the ban, he said that he would not be able to support himself without working as a journalist for three years.

The journalist believes he is the target of judicial harassment from political and economic actors, as well as senior police chiefs, because of his journalistic investigations, C-Libre reported.

D’Vicente also reported that Mejía had let it be known that he had friends in the government and that he should not continue talking about the case, C-Libre said.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) also warned about D’Vicente’s criminal defamation conviction in its report about recent violations of press freedom in the region.

“This is not the first court decision used to sanction and censor Honduran journalists that investigate figures and matters of public interest, to suspend a person’s work activity, whatever his or her profession may be, is an aberration and worse if it concerns work as a journalist,” said Pierre Manigault, IAPA president.

Wendy Funes, of C-Libre, told CPJ that convictions of journalists in defamation cases are increasingly seeking professional disqualification.

“This creates a legal precedent that other judges may follow,” Funes said.

Courts convicted journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado of Globo TV of criminal defamation in 2014 and he also was banned from exercising his profession for 16 months, CPJ reported.

D’Vicente, who has covered cases of local government corruption, previously received death threats.

In 2012, as published on the site Honduras Tierra Libre, the journalist said that a group of five alleged plainclothes police men broke into his house with the intention of killing him, but did not find him and assaulted two of his relatives who were present.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.