Journalism groups concerned that prison sentence against Colombian editor for libel sets dangerous precedent

The regional court in Cundinamarca, Colombia, upheld a criminal libel sentence against a Colombian journalist on Wednesday, Feb. 29, for publishing an editorial criticizing former governor and senator María Leonor Serrano de Camargo, reported the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP in Spanish).

In October 2011 Luis Agustín González, editor of the newspaper Cundinamarca Democrática, was sentenced to 20 months in prison and $5,500 in fines for slander and libel.

The regional court's ruling on Wednesday sentenced the journalist to 18 months in prison and a fine of about $5,450, according to Reporters Without Borders, which said the sentence highlights the need to de-criminalize libel. "The ruling constitutes a serious precedent, a boost for self-censorship and a gag on freedom of opinion," Reporters Without Borders added.

The prison sentence was criticized by the Colombian Association of Newspaper and Media Editors (Andiarios in Spanish as a "serious attack against freedom of opinion” in Colombia. The ruling also has attracted the attention of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, reported Radio Santa Fe.