Judge finds Honduras lawmaker guilty in defamation case
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A judge in Honduras found an opposition lawmaker guilty Tuesday of defaming and slandering a powerful local banker.
Maria Luisa Borjas of the Libre party was sued by Ficohsa bank president Camilo Atala in 2017 after she publicly read a list of suspected “intellectual authors” contained in a government investigative report on killings. Atala’s was one of 16 names.
The lawsuit said Borjas’ comments caused “irreparable damage” to Atala’s reputation.
Honduras judiciary spokeswoman Lucia Villars said Tuesday that the judge found Borjas made the public statements “irresponsibly, without confirming them.” A hearing was scheduled for Feb. 7 to discuss Borjas’ sentence.
Speaking to local reporters outside the courtroom, Borjas said that she planned to appeal the verdict in Honduras and if necessary to international legal bodies. Borjas had said prior to the verdict that she feared it could be used to try to oust her from the congress.
Borjas read Atala’s name from a security ministry’s inspector general report about the 2016 killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres. She said she read it publicly because she knew it was in prosecutors’ possession, but had not been acted on.
Luis Padilla, a lawyer for Atala, said they were satisfied with the judge’s decision and believed that justice had been done.
Padilla said he believed they had presented sufficient evidence to cast doubt on the authenticity of the document that Borjas had read for the press. He said she had made a “false accusation” against his client without taking steps to verify the information.
Honduras has a criminal defamation law that allows private citizens to bring criminal proceedings for so-called honor crimes.
Edy Tabora, director of the Honduras-based Committee for Freedom of Expression, said rulings like the one Tuesday pose a grave threat to democracy.
Tabora called such lawsuits “a strategy to impose silence on all those people who criticize, all those people who denounce, all those people who address issues of public interest.”
Sherman reported from Mexico City.