Miami (May 12, 2023) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) warned that a bill in Peru that would increase penalties for the crimes of defamation and libel is a severe setback for press freedom, the free practice of journalism and the public's right to information.
Congress could approve next week's bill 2862, known as the "gag law." It increases prison sentences for crimes of defamation and slander to five years and fines to between 90 and 120 days in the case of improper use of media, social media, and websites against public officials. It also imposes economic compensation in favor of the victim. Last week, Congress approved the legal initiative in a first vote.
The IAPA criticized the bill in its report on Peru during the semi-annual meeting in April. The organization also called for the bill to be shelved in letters sent to congressional authorities on legal initiatives that limit free expression and the work of the press.
Michael Greenspon, IAPA president and Global Head of Licensing & Print Innovation for The New York Times, said the initiative "contradicts inter-American jurisprudence, which calls for lawsuits against journalists to be heard in the civil forum, not the criminal one."
The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, editor of La Voz del Interior of Argentina, expressed concern about "the negative effect that the increase in prison sentences would have on the practice of journalism and investigative journalism and its consequences on the public's right to information."
In 2014, in response to a request from the IAPA that sent an international delegation to Lima, the then president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Enrique Mendoza Ramírez, urged judges to be more careful admitting lawsuits against journalists when they had the intention of generating self-censorship. At that time, the IAPA had warned about the "industrialization of lawsuits" by officials to prevent journalism from continuing to uncover cases of public corruption.
For decades and through its Chapultepec Project, the IAPA has been promoting measures to decriminalize defamation crimes against journalists, promoted by public officials in public interest cases. Among the countries of the Americas that have decriminalized defamation are Argentina, Bermuda, Chile (partial), Dominican Republic (partial), El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Panama, and Uruguay.
In line with inter-American jurisprudence, the Declaration of Salta states in Article 3: "Governments must not, through regulations, inhibit statements of public interest in the digital space, nor should they impose enhanced penalties based on the fact that they have been expressed in that space. Likewise, governments must not penalize criticism, information, or protests against public officials regarding matters of public interest or against individuals who voluntarily expose themselves to public scrutiny. In cases where civil claims are filed, evidence of real malice must be proven."
IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida.