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Rodrigo Salazar: “It is urgent to decriminalize crimes against honor in our country”

Rodrigo Salazar: “It is urgent to decriminalize crimes against honor in our country”

The recent events related to the judicial process for defamation that in the first instance ruled against the journalist Christopher Acosta and the publisher Jerónimo Pimentel, for the publication of the book “Plata como cancha”, have once again put on the table the importance of consecrating the decriminalization of defamation in the legal system of our country.

By incorporating this concept, the Peruvian judicial system will have taken an important step in respect of freedom of expression. This has, these days, a greater relevance since an initiative promoted by legislator José Luna is circulating in Congress that considers the imprisonment of journalists for crimes of defamation. In order to have more light on the Inforegion issue, he consulted with Rodrigo Salazar, executive director of the Peruvian Press Council (CPP).

Initiative circulating in Parliament seeks that the journalist go to jail

Let’s specify the scope of the bill promoted by the legislator José Luna, the one that takes the post of what was proposed in PL 6422-2020, to be presented today as PL 1060-2021. There, the sentence of between four and six years in prison is provided for the crime of defamation with obtaining economic benefit. Today, the sentence is not less than one year nor more than three years, that is, with suspended prison, but the change will make it an effective prison sentence when it exceeds four years. The initiative seeks to modify article 132 of the Penal Code.

«The change proposal says: between four to six years of imprisonment. That implies effective prison. In Peru, with three years, it is a suspended prison. What this bill is looking for is that the journalist go to jail,” Salazar said when questioning one of the proposals of the initiative. Then he criticized “the arbitrariness that the bill brings” when speaking of “any act of defamation that generates a journalistic product that is worked for profit or profit. The words profit or benefit are worrying, because how does a judge interpret what is the benefit of the journalist to publish something that has come to defame. (This) opens quite complicated and doubtful doors towards interpretations of a judge that in the end can end up harming freedom of expression.

Salazar considered that the fact that Luna has recently “refloated” a 2020 bill “is closely related to the ruling of Judge Raúl Jesús Vega against Jerónimo Pimentel and Christopher Acosta for the book ‘Plata como cancha’ ( …). “It is an obvious response” to a situation in which a suspended prison sentence was issued against both, he said. That this bill takes force a few days after the sentence, “is an indicator that Podemos Peru or Mr. Luna are looking for journalists to go to jail: it is the real interest,” Salazar remarked.

Towards the decriminalization of defamation crimes

Salazar said that the CPP and the Universidad del Pacífico (UP) presented a bill-of-law.pdf to “decriminalize crimes against honor.” This will avoid the possibility that a journalist will go to jail or have to pay a large civil compensation. Regarding the gestation of the initiative, he recalled that it was produced between the end of 2019 and February 2020, to later be presented to the High-Level Anti-Corruption Commission (CAN). However, it was not possible to advance further in its discussion because the pandemic arrived and a new Congress was immediately installed marked by the political situation of the presidential vacancy.

“The main thing that the bill proposes is to decriminalize crimes against honor, that is, to eliminate from the Penal Code any possibility of imprisonment for journalists for matters related to defamation. That does not mean that the figure of defamation in Peruvian law is deregulated or that it does not exist; what we want to do is maintain any aspect related to good reputation and honor -it seems essential to us that this be respected-, but that the penalty for failing to do so is not jail. It is not proportional that a journalist found to be a slanderer goes to jail,” said Salazar.

He added that the initiative proposes the creation of “new instances”; for example, a civil instance where both parties can talk, before going to court, and thus find an amicable solution. It is proposed, he added, to improve the rectification system, and also, it is proposed that there be no very high civil reparations, which could lead to the bankruptcy of a company or the ruin of a journalist. Another approach, he cited, is that these fines are associated with a medium’s ability to pay or bill income. Salazar noted that the draft is available to any parliamentarian who wants to make it his own, and thus can pass it to the Plenary.

A bad start to the year for the Peruvian press

Salazar considered that “we have had an unfortunate start to the year for freedom of expression. We began with the raid on Pedro Salinas’ house, where they took his phone from him and his youngest daughter. It continued with the absurd ruling of Judge Jesús Vega, and finally we have the case of Podemos Peru. There is a very clear trend in Peru of powerful bullies who do not want journalists to investigate the dark things they do.

He argued that Peruvian journalists are “totally helpless” because they suffer persecution from Congress (with his bill), the Judiciary (with the Acosta case), the Prosecutor’s Office (as happened with Salinas) and we even have “inflammatory speeches” from the Executive Branch. He recalled that there are three pending cases of journalists murdered more than 30 years ago, who have not found justice. “Journalists are absolutely unprotected and that cannot happen in a democracy,” he told INFOREGIÓN.

With information from INFOREGION.

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