Peru: Overturn Journalist Rafo León’s Sentence for Criminal Defamation

17 May 2016
Peru: Overturn Journalist Rafo León’s Sentence for Criminal Defamation

12 May 2016

On 3 May 2016 – international World Press Freedom Day – a court in Lima found journalist and author Rafael León Rodríguez (Rafo León) guilty of ‘aggravated defamation’ of a fellow journalist on the basis of a 2014 opinion piece. He was ordered to pay the plaintiff 6,000 Soles (approx. USD$1,800) in damages and to complete a one-year period of “good behaviour” in order to avoid a criminal conviction. León has appealed.

PEN International considers that León’s sentence for criminal defamation is a violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion protected under national and international law. PEN urges the Peruvian authorities to overturn the sentence and to remove defamation from the criminal code and make it a civil offence.

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Please send Appeals:

  • Urging the Peruvian authorities to overturn journalist and author Rafo León’s sentence for aggravated defamation which PEN considers to be a violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion protected under national and international law;
  • Calling on the authorities to review the convictions and sentences of all other writers and journalists convicted of defamation in criminal courts with a view to overturning them;
  • Reminding the Peruvian Congress of its pledge to remove defamation from the criminal code and to make it a civil offence and urging them to fulfil this pledge as a matter of urgency.
    • Addresses:

      Víctor Ticona Postigo
      President of the Judiciary (Presidente del Poder Judicial)
      Poder Judicial,
      Av. Paseo de la República S/N, Palacio de Justicia,
      Cercado, Lima,Peru
      Fax: +51 1 4283690
      Telephone: +51 1 428 3690
      Twitter: @Poder_Judicial_

      Ana María Aranda Rodríguez
      Head of the Judicial Control Office of the Judiciary
      (Jefa de la Oficina de Control de la Magistratura del Poder Judicial)
      Oficina de Control de la Magistratura – OCMA,
      Av. Paseo de la República s/n – 2do. piso – Palacio de Justicia,
      Email: Telephone: +51 1 410 1010

      Luis Carlos Antonio Iberico Nuñez
      President of the Peruvian Congress
      (Presidente del Congreso de la República)
      Congreso de la República,
      Plaza Bolívar
      Av. Abancay s/n,
      Telephone: +51 1 311 7777
      Twitter: @congresoperu


      #Peru: Overturn journalist #RafoLeon’s sentence for criminal defamation @congresoperu @Poder_Judicial @pen_int

      It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals to the Peruvian Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) Eduardo Vega Luna at and via your nearest diplomatic representative for Peru.

      **Please contact the PEN International office in London if sending appeals after 10 July 2016**

      Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Rafo León’s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities.


      PEN members are encouraged to:

      • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Rafo León in Peru
      • Share information about Rafo León and your campaigning activities via social media


      Messages of solidarity can be sent to Rafo León via Tamsin Mitchell


      Peruvian journalist and author Rafael León Rodríguez (known as Rafo León) (b. 1950) is known for his columns for the Lima-based weekly newsmagazine Caretas, his travel accounts and short stories.

      On 3 May 2016 – World Press Freedom Day – a judge in the 40th Criminal Court in Lima found León guilty of ‘aggravated defamation’ of fellow journalist Martha Meier Miró Quesada. Under Article 132 of the Peruvian Penal Code, defamation is ‘aggravated’ when the offending words are disseminated in print or via the media.

      León was ordered to pay the plaintiff 6,000 Soles (approx. USD$1,800) in damages. In her ruling, the judge withheld a criminal conviction, subject to León completing one year’s “good behaviour”; the ruling will be finalised at the end of this period. For 12 months, León will be required to inform the judge of any change in his address and to report to the Biometric Control Office on a monthly basis. It is likely that he will also be required to request permission to travel abroad, among other stipulations.

      Under Article 65 of the Penal Code, if León breaks any of these rules, the judge could lengthen the “good behaviour” period by up to six months or revoke the original sentence and criminally convict him, leading to a possible prison sentence. Similarly, if León is considered to have committed another crime, the judge would also annul the current sentence and convict him (Article 66). If, however, he is deemed to have respected the rules, the period will expire after 12 months and he will not receive a criminal conviction (Article 67).

      As the Peruvian human rights lawyer, former anticorruption prosecutor and columnist Ronald Gamerra tweeted: ‘In sum: the judge has ordered Rafo León to self-censor for a year, otherwise he will be convicted.’

      Following sentencing, León told the judge: ‘I want to state that I disagree with this sentence. I live in a democratic country like everyone else except you, who lives on an island of authoritarianism […] and human rights violations. I’m going to appeal at the highest level.’

      León appealed the sentence immediately after the sentence was read, according to his lawyer, Roberto Pereira. The suspended sentence will not come into effect until it has been confirmed by a court of appeal.

      The defamation case was brought against León in 2014 by Martha Meier Miró Quesada, then general editor and columnist for El Comercio, one of the country’s leading newspapers. The lawsuit stems from an opinion piece León published in his regular column in Caretas in June 2014 in response to an earlier column by Meier in El Comercio criticising the then Mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán de la Puente. In his satirical piece, León says Meier provides no solid arguments for her criticisms, undermines her credentials as an environmental journalist and questions her suitability to continue as editor of El Comercio.

      Claiming that she had been insulted and humiliated by his ‘misogynistic’ column, Meier sued León for defamation in August 2014; no charges were brought against Caretas. León contested that his column used irony and rhetoric to comment on a matter of public interest but was in no way intended to be insulting and, as an opinion piece, cannot be subjected to a test of truth. León has also stated that Meier’s column was the latest in a series of often sloppy and unsubstantiated articles in El Comercio denigrating the former mayor.

      Meier, who is part of the Miró Quesada family that owns El Comercio, was reportedly fired by the newspaper in 2015. Her dismissal was due to a different controversial column but during the trial she reportedly alleged that León’s column was a contributing factor.

      On 23 March 2016, León was summoned to appear in court on 3 May for the ruling to be read – more than nine months after the trial ended in July 2015. León’s defence called for the sentence to be annulled and a new trial to be held, alleging unjustified delays and irregularities in due process. This request, supported by the Peruvian free expression organisation Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), was denied by the court.

      León’s sentencing follows hard on the heels of a fellow journalist’s conviction for criminal defamation. On 18 April 2016, Fernando Valencia Osorio, former editor of the Lima-based daily newspaper Diario 16, was sentenced on appeal to a 20-month suspended prison sentence for defaming former Peruvian president Alan García. He was also ordered to pay 100,000 sols (US$30,595) in damages. (Click here for more details).

      The right to freedom of expression and opinion is protected under the Peruvian Constitution (Article 2.4) and international law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 13) to which Peru is a state party.

      PEN International considers that no writer or journalist should be imprisoned or receive criminal penalties simply for the peaceful expression of their views or practice of their profession and calls for the repeal of criminal defamation laws in all countries.

      The Special Rapporteurs for freedom of expression of the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have stated: “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”

      Peru has committed to decriminalising defamation on several occasions but this has yet to happen. Most recently, earlier this year the President of the Peruvian Congress proposed removing defamation from the criminal code and making it a civil offence, following a meeting with IPYS and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

      According to a recent CPJ study on criminal defamation laws in the Americas, in Peru: ‘In 2011, the permanent commission of Congress approved a bill to amend Article 132 of the Penal Code to remove the imprisonment penalty of the insult and defamation laws and replace it with fines and community service. Efforts to decriminalize defamation and insult laws have not seen any further material developments since then.’

      For more information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell, Americas Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Tel. +44 (0)20 7405 0338; email:

      PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088.