Blogger’s conviction marks new low for Peru's online freedom

On 29 October, journalist José Alejandro Godoy, became the first blogger in Peru to be convicted on defamation charges. Judge Flor La Rosa sentenced the author of political blog Desde el Tercer Piso (From the Third Floor) to a three-year suspended prison sentence, a fine of 300,000 soles (£65,000), and 120 days of social work. His crime? Ironically referring to a powerful politician as a “political jewel”.

Jorge Mufarech — a minister during Alberto Fujimori’s government (1990-2000) — initially launched legal action against Godoy in August 2009, after the blogger published an article that included links to criminal allegations levelled against Mufarech by other media sources. The article reported accusations that he had threatened another politician, Julio Arzibu. The controversial links appeared only in the first paragraph of the piece, and Godoy claims were included simply to contextualise the piece.

Godoy allowed Mufarech right of reply, publishing a letter from the former congressman and his own subsequent response, which explained why he thought the links were justified. But despite this, the politician claimed one million dollars in compensation for defamation.

Godoy had merely referred to Mufarech’s public past, so it came as a surprise when Flor La Rosa, in reference to the “political jewel” remarks, condemned the journalist for a “systematic campaign of defamation”. A completely different legal argument to that originally brought by the politician. It is hard to imagine what the ruling would be if Godoy had called Mufarech something really insulting.

It is worth noting that the judge is affiliated to APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance), the political party at the head of the Peruvian government and Desde el Tercer Piso is well-known for its government criticism. Godoy will of course appeal the court’s decision. His lawyer, Roberto Pereira, has said that the lack of legal substantiation and the excessive nature of the sentence constitute a blow against press freedom, unprecedented in the country’s history.

Peru is holding elections in April 2011. This case represents a danger to free expression at a time when it is more important than ever. In the words of José Alejandro Godoy, “everyone, not only me, could be a victim of an absurd ruling like this one.” Mufarech has a history of defamation complaints — Susana Villarán, who is likely to be the next mayor of Lima, is currently under investigation — but this is the first defamation case Mufarech has won. So who will be next, Mr Mufarech?

Angel Garcia Catala works for free expression monitor Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)

Uzbekistan: Human rights activist convicted of libel

Human rights campaigner Surat Ikramov was found guilty on libel charges on 28 September for an article he published about the suspicious death of singer Dilnura Kadyrjanova in 2007.

Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, was fined 100,000 som (around $60) and ordered to publicly refute the article by publishing approved corrections. Authorities claimed the death of Kadyrjanova, who had been the mistress of a prominent police chief, was suicide. Ikramov’s report suggested that the police chief had used his position of power to prevent a full murder investigation.

Iran: “Blogfather” sentenced to more than 19 years in prison

An Iranian news website is reporting that blogger Hossein “Hoder” Derakhshan has been sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. Mashregh News says that he was convicted on charges of cooperating with hostile countries, spreading anti-government propaganda, promotion of counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islam. Derakhshan has been in prison since 2008. The report says that he can appeal against the sentence.

Cambodia: Opposition leader sentenced to ten years in prison

The leader of the opposition has been sentenced to ten years in prison for comments he made about a border dispute with Vietnam. Sam Rainsy, who is currently living in exile in Paris, was convicted in absentia on 23 September, on charges of spreading disinformation and falsifying maps. He had questioned whether the border had been incorrectly marked by the government in favour of Cambodia, and disseminated a map detailing the accusations. Presiding judge Ke Sakhan said that Rainsy’s acts “seriously affected the honour of the government“. The trial was closed to the public.