Peruvian journalists sentenced for revealing alleged irregularities in election of judicial council member

Journalist César Lévano, director of the Peruvian newspaper Diario Uno (formerly newspaper La Primera), and journalist Javier Soto of the same media outlet, were sentenced to pay 50,000 soles (about USD $15,000) as civil reparation for the former advisor of the National Council of the Judiciary Luz Marina Guzmán, for alleged "moral damage" caused by one of their reports, according to the blog LaMula.

The article by Soto, which led to court proceedings for damages for which he was sentenced, was published in November 2010 in the then-daily newspaper La Primera.

In this, Soto reported that Guzmán falsified signatures in order to be elected to the CNM in the June 13, 2010 elections. This body appoints and dismisses judges of the Judiciary and prosecution.

Meanwhile, the lawyer and coordinator of the legal department of the Legal Defense Institute (IDL for its acronym in Spanish), Juan José Quispe, said that on July 24 they will present an appeal for annulment against the sentence issued by the Judiciary in this case.

Quispe said on the program "There is no right” for the site Ideeleradio.com that a series of irregularities had been committed, disregarding the legitimate right to defense of the accused. According to the lawyer, Lévano and Soto did not receive any judicial notice in their homes about the process, as established by the Constitution and the law, so they could not attend the hearings to defend themselves.

According to the newspaper report, the then-adviser of CNM and representative of the National Association of Nurses had put her fingerprint on several of the signatures of voting rolls that supported her candidacy. In addition, according to the article, Guzmán would have placed nine dead people among the signatories, including her colleague Rosa Marina Caso Gutarra, who had committed suicide in December 2008, two years before the vote.

Regarding Guzmán’s complaint, Cesar Lévano (the pseudonym of Edmundo Lévano La Rosa), published an editorial in the newspaper that he directs, Diario Uno, that it is a "direct threat against freedom of press and expression.”

The damage that justifies the request for civil reparation is also not determined in the sentence because “in the resolution it is not clearly established what is the damaged caused [by the report] to the complainant," Diario Uno reported.

According to newspaper La República, Guzmán also denounced Lévano and Soto of not being able to exercise her right of reply. However, Quispe alleged that the newspaper did comply with publishing the letter that she sent them, which gave her version of the facts. This document is in the court file of the case, according to the IDL lawyer.

"They cannot use the judicial forums to condemn journalists, under the pretext of procedural legalism and other judicial chicanery, but rather to give a legitimate and proper administration of justice. It is an abusive decision," he said, according to Ideeleradio.

This would be the third sentence against journalists that we known of in Peru so far this year.

On April 18, the former director of the newspaper Diario 16, Fernando Valencia, was sentenced to 20 months in prison and order to pay a compensation of 100,000 nuevos soles (approximately USD $30,000) in favor of former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who accused him of defamation follow the publication of a cover.

Valencia considered bringing his case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

And on May 3, journalist Rafael León was condemned to a one-year probationary period and to pay 6,000 nuevos soles (about USD $1,800) in civil damages for publishing an opinion column in the magazine Caretas in which he criticized an editorial column of Martha Meier, ex editor of the newspaper El Comercio. In the editorial, Meier harshly questioned the management of then-is imayor of Lima, Susan Villarán.

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.