Peruvian Congress passes bill eliminating prison for libel convictions

Peru’s Congress has passed a bill replacing prison time for defamation and libel offenses with fines and community service, Perú.com reports. The change was passed June 21, but it still needs the president’s signature to become law.

According to Terra, lawmaker Mauricio Mulder said that this change would eliminate the threat of prison for journalists, avoiding cases like what happened in Ecuador last week, where three directors and an editor at El Universo newspaper were convicted to three years in prison each for defaming President Rafael Correa. Peru's current law gives one- to three- year jail terms to those convicted of libel.

The change was largely received positively by the media and freedom of expression organizations. Roberto Pereira at the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) said it was a “good alternative to the extremes of making [defamation] into a civil offense or just keeping the status quo.”

In an editorial, El Comercio newspaper said the reform was a positive step, even if “incomplete.” “To guarantee freedom of expression, defamation, libel, and slander must be decriminalized,” it said.

In Peru, the authorities have frequently used restrictive libel laws to target journalists for their opinions or for those of individuals they interview. In 2010, journalists José Alejandro GodoySegundo CarrascalFernando Santos RojasEnrique Lazo Flores were sentenced to jail time for defamation offenses.

Earlier this month, journalist Hans Francisco Andrade Chávez, a host of a TV news show, received a two-year jail sentence for statements made by a political party leader on his show.

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.