26 September 2005
Journalist sentenced to one year in prison for defamation
(IPYS/IFEX) - On July 15 2005, Mabel Cáceres Calderón, editor of "El Búho" weekly in the region of Arequipa, was sentenced to a year in prison after being accused of defamation by Miguel Sierra Lopez, attorney to Rolando Cornejo Cuervo, chancellor of the University of San Agustin (UNSA). The sentence is to be reviewed by the First Criminal Division of Arequipa's Superior Court, which will make its verdict known by the end of the month.
According to the ruling, the journalist, who is also being fined 460 soles (approx. US$140), was guilty of defamation when she co-authored several articles damaging to Sierra's reputation. The judge has not determined who else is responsible for the articles. According to Cáceres, the ruling did not specify why the articles were judged defamatory or maliciously intended and therefore has no validity under criminal law.
The journalist believes Sierra's real motive is to prevent the publication of information prejudicial to him. In a public letter on 31 March, Sierra accused Cáceres of attempting to extort money from him in exchange for not publishing information that would discredit him, an accusation denied by the journalist.
In the same sentence, the court rejected a second accusation of defamation filed by the UNSA, which was presented by its chancellor. This is the fourth lawsuit filed by the official against the editor of "El Búho". She was absolved in the three previous cases.
Cáceres has endured repeated intimidation, including death threats and anonymous smear campaigns, since she revealed serious irregularities in the administration of UNSA in 2002 (see IFEX alerts of 21 April 2004, 11 and 3 April 2002). The journalist fears that if the sentence is upheld, it will mean severe restrictions for media reporting on the case, as the ruling appears to be an attempt to discourage the weekly from dealing with topics of public interest.