United Kingdom – Ecuador, 13 January 2022 – The sentencing of author and investigative journalist Christopher Acosta Alfaro, and director and editor of Penguin Random House Peru, Jerónimo Pimentel Prieto, to two years’ suspended imprisonment and the payment of civil damages of almost US$100,000 is evidence of the limited protections for freedom of expression in Peru and sets a dangerous precedent for journalism and publishing in the country, PEN International and the PEN Ecuador Centre said today.
On 10 January 2022, journalist Christopher Acosta and editor Jerónimo Pimentel were convicted of aggravated defamation for the publication of the book Plata Como Cancha, an unauthorised biography of politician and businessman César Acuña, three-time presidential candidate.
“The Peruvian justice system is flagrantly acting to obstruct investigative journalists with the devastating result of stifling free expression and media freedom. Today Peru has a high number of criminal proceedings against journalists. It is evident that the State is pursuing a policy of silencing and criminalising journalists, writers and publishers, this must stop!” said Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.
The book Plata Como Cancha was published in February 2021 (Aguilar, Penguin Random House Peru). According to public reports, in March 2021, Peruvian businessman Acuña filed a complaint and, later, formalised the lawsuit against the author and publisher for containing “at least 55 defamatory sentences”, of which at least 20 were not attributed to the crime of defamation.
According to Penguin Random House Peru, the book uses “an exhaustive investigation that includes judicial and fiscal files, government resolutions, intelligence reports, confidential agreements, as well as extensive access to the inner circle of the politician and businessman, the author of Plata como cancha brings to light the pieces of a puzzle where power and money overlap each other, in the stories told here for the first time”.
The National Association of Journalists of Peru has documented at least 104 lawsuits against journalists in Lima and the regions, warning of the risk of civil reparations lawsuits being used to intimidate journalists and punish them for carrying out investigative reporting that is in the public interest.
“There is no other way to carry out our work as writers, journalists or editors than with freedom. We reject the sentence against our colleagues, as it curtails journalism, freedoms and democracy. Justice must not act to the detriment of human rights. From Ecuador we stand in solidarity with our Peruvian colleagues,” said Carlos Vásconez, President of PEN Ecuador.
PEN International calls on the Peruvian authorities to ensure that those imparting justice guarantee the full exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression, enshrined in the Peruvian Constitution; to drop the charges against Christopher Acosta Alfaro and Jerónimo Pimentel Prieto; and to decriminalize defamation.