Judge acquits Peruvian journalist who was sued for aggravated defamation

Peruvian investigative journalist Paola Ugaz was recently acquitted for aggravated defamation in a trial. Since 2018, Ugaz has been repeatedly sued for aggravated defamation related to her investigations into the alleged sexual and psychological abuse of minors and the alleged financial irregularities of the Catholic congregation Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana.


Paola Ugaz. (Photo: Flor Ruiz/Amnistía Internacional)

The plaintiff, Luciano Revoredo, is the director of the conservative news portal La Abeja. Revoredo denounced Ugaz in September 2020 for saying in media interviews that his website was defamatory. The plaintiff requested 200,000 nuevos soles in civil damages (around US $53,000) and three years in prison for Ugaz.

On Jan. 26, 2022, Judge Rómulo Chira of the Ninth Criminal Court of the Superior Court of Lima ruled in favor of Ugaz.

"The judge did not find any malicious intent on my part, but rather a response to a whole wave of lies and defamation that are being spread through the La Abeja portal," Ugaz told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). "And what he asks, finally, to ensure social coexistence, is that the parties refrain from the intention of sharing epithets with each other."

One of the arguments of the sentence to which LJR had access to is that Ugaz did not have the "intent to defame" when she opined in a couple of television interviews that were the subject of the lawsuit that the website La Abeja was defamatory for publishing opinion columns in which she was called “denigrating adjectives.”

Among the columns published about her in La Abeja since 2018 are: “Cuando atacar a la iglesia es un negocio [When attacking the Church is a business], Mitad corruptos, mitad encubridores [Half corrupt, half concealers], “Paola Ugaz: la tuitera de la corrupción [Paola Ugaz: corruption’s twitterer], Paola Ugaz el rostro de la difamación y la mentira [Paola Ugaz is the face of defamation and lies].

“The defendant said the denounced statements not with the purpose of damaging the honor of the complainant, on the contrary, she said them in response to the affectation of her own honor and as an attempt to safeguard it, likewise, making use of her right to freedom of expression”, states the ruling.

Judge Chira also contextualized Ugaz's opinions by specifying in his sentence that what the journalist said during the interviews in question followed several of La Abeja's publications about her.

According to what Ugaz's lawyer, Carlos Rivera, told LJR, this first ruling "is very categorical in its content, but it has been appealed." If the case goes to a second trial, a new sentence would be issued by mid-2022, he added.

Revoredo told LJR that he disagrees with the sentence. In his opinion, he added, a fair sentence would be to recognize that he has been defamed by Ugaz.

 On his Twitter profile, Revoredo confirmed he is appealing the court ruling.

“Paola Ugaz (who is currently being investigated for money laundering) in several interviews called me a slanderer, a misogynist, etc. I sued her for defamation. On Jan. 22, the judge acquitted her. Today Dr. Mario Camacho Perla, my lawyer, filed an appeal. We continue fighting,” Revoredo tweeted on Jan. 31.

For Ugaz, this sentence sets an important precedent in Peruvian law for journalists’ cases all over the country who suffer attacks on a daily basis for carrying out their work. Above all, she added, it is important because for the first time it deals with a woman journalist being harassed judicially and on social media, and who receives death threats.

“But I want it to be clear that today it’s the Paola Ugaz case, but it’s also the case of Cristopher Acosta, Jerónimo Pimentel and it could also be that of Daniel Yovera. Democracy must be defended and democracy must be defended in a country with very weak institutions,” Ugaz said.

Journalist Acosta and editor Pimentel, accused of aggravated defamation by politician and businessman César Acuña, were sentenced on Jan. 10, 2022 to two years in prison after the judge found that 35 journalistic quotes from Acosta's book about Acuña were defamatory. . In their unprecedented sentence, to which both have appealed, they are also ordered to pay reparations of 400,000 nuevos soles (about US $100,000).

Meanwhile, Yovera faces a trial for aggravated defamation whose plaintiff is Carlos Alberto Gómez de la Torre Pretel, former general manager of the Miraflores Peru real estate company that would be linked to Sodalicio.  Yovera was the reporter in charge of the journalistic investigation of Al Jazeera’s 2017 documentary “Perú: The Sodalitium Scandal.”

Gómez de la Torre denounced Ugaz in 2019, for having collaborated in the documentary in question. The trial is ongoing.

In an previous interview, regarding his lawsuit against Ugaz, Gómez de la Torre told LJR that he wants his good name cleared, which has been “tarnished” by the documentary. 

The documentary exposes the alleged land trafficking by the Miraflores Perú real estate company during Gómez de la Torre’s administration.

Another litigation case against Ugaz still open is due to a money laundering lawsuit that Revoredo and José Edgardo Palomino filed in 2021 with the Prosecutor's office investigating cases of corruption of officials in the Lava Jato regional scandal.

Palomino is a columnist for La Abeja and for the tabloid newspapers Expreso and La Razón.

Revoredo and Palomino accused Ugaz with the Prosecutor’s Office based on newspaper articles published by Expreso, Willax TV, La Abeja and La Razón. The articles point to Ugaz's alleged illicit enrichment after working in Lima’s City Council, when Susana Villarán was mayor. Villarán, who is in pre-trial detention, is also being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office in the Lava Jato case, for the alleged crime of illicit enrichment.

“Accusations based on a castle of lies, do not stop me. Seeing my name tarnished as they try to insert it with forceps into corruption cases that have nothing to do with me, doesn't stop me. That they have the audacity, the total lack of scruples, to single me out as the head of a criminal network, does not stop me,” Ugaz said. "I live by my mentor’s motto, Gustavo Gorriti: 'Fear should not be a journalist's editor.'"

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