Peruvian court convicts author and publisher of defamation for book about politician

Bogotá, January 13, 2022 – Peruvian authorities should not contest the appeal of journalist Christopher Acosta and Penguin Random House Peru director Jerónimo Pimentel against a recent criminal conviction for defamation and should stop using criminal laws on defamation against members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. .

On January 10, a criminal court judge in Lima, the capital of Peru, convicted Acosta and Pimentel of defaming César Acuña, a former mayor, governor, congressman and two-time presidential candidate; both sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence; and ordered Acosta, Pimentel and Penguin Random House Peru to pay Acuña a total of 400,000 soles ($102,608) in damages, according to many news reports and a copy of phrasing reviewed by CPJ.

Acuña filed his lawsuit in response to Acosta’s book “Money Like Popcorn: Secrets, Impunity, and the Fortune of César Acuña”, which was published in February 2021 by Penguin Random House Peru. In the book, numerous named sources allege that Acuña engaged in vote buying, embezzlement of public funds and plagiarism, Acosta told CPJ via the messaging app.

However, Acuña was never found guilty of the crimes and in his 49-page decision, Judge Raúl Jesús Vega found that 35 quotes from the book damaged Acuña’s honor and reputation.

CPJ sent voicemails seeking comment to Acuña’s attorney, Enrique Ghersi, and his spokesperson and son, Richard Acuña, but they did not respond.

“We are outraged by a Peruvian court’s decision to convict Christopher Acosta and Jerónimo Pimentel of defamation for Acosta’s book about politician César Acuña,” said CPJ Latin America and Caribbean Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, New York. “This absurd conviction is the latest egregious example of how criminal defamation laws and the Peruvian judicial system are constantly used to stifle reporting on stories of public interest.”

Acosta is the investigative editor at Lima’s private television channel Latina Noticias and is a well-respected journalist in Peru. He told CPJ that all of the book’s allegations against Acuña are contained in direct quotes from people he interviewed, reports in the Peruvian media, investigations by the attorney general’s office, and testimony from prosecution and trial. congressional hearings.

He called the guilty verdict “absurd” and said that unless overturned on appeal, the ruling would set a dangerous legal precedent by placing the onus on journalists to prove their sources’ claims. Furthermore, he said it made no sense to include Pimentel in the lawsuit because, although he heads the Peruvian division of Penguin Random House, he had no role in the book’s editing.

Acosta said his defense attorney, Roberto Pereira, will file an appeal within days. If the three appeals court judges uphold the guilty verdict, he said Pereira will ask Peru’s Supreme Court to rule on the case. Pepper told CPJ via the messaging app that he would also appeal the guilty verdict.

freedom of the press and human rights groups, publishers associations, and many Peruvians media strongly rejected the decision while the The United Nations, the European Union, and the American Embassy in Peru responded with statements declaring that freedom of the press was fundamental to democracy.

Acuña, who finished seventh in the Peruvian presidential election last year, applauded the verdict. “This is my chance to show that I am innocent,” he told the Peruvian television channel Willax. “I am not against freedom of the press but I am against defamation.”

Lola R. McClure