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Journalist found guilty of "defamation"

(PFC/IFEX) - On 4 February 2004, a criminal court found journalist Renato Álvarez guilty of "slander" and "defamation". Politician and former member of congress Eduardo Sarmiento pressed charges against Álvarez, after the journalist disclosed a report in June 2003 that revealed alleged links to drug trafficking in Honduras and that mentioned Sarmiento.

Judges Felix Avila, Thelma Cantarero and Geraldina Mejía rejected arguments presented by the defence, overlooked allegations of irregularities in the proceedings and ignored the "not guilty" verdict recently handed down in another trial against Álvarez in connection with the same report. In late January, Judge Mario Díaz concluded that Álvarez had "broadcast the information [on his television programme] in order to consult with Security Minister Óscar Álvarez about the veracity of the report. The journalist never implied that he had written the report" (see IFEX alert of 28 January 2004).

During the hearing, Álvarez's defence lawyer objected to a statement made by Prosecutor Antonio Ocampo Santos, when he referred to the possibility of an acquittal. "We do not want to resort to the medieval system whereby honour is restored with blood," Ocampo Santos threatened. Álvarez's defence lawyer also demonstrated that several of the prosecution's witnesses gave false testimony, attributing statements to Álvarez that he had never made, and that did not appear in the transcripts of the television programme during which the journalist presented the offending report.

Representatives of the Committee for Free Expression (Comité por la Libre Expresión, C-Libre), who accompanied Álvarez during the trial, said the journalist will be appealing the decision.

This alert was prepared by PFC with information from C-Libre.

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