Honduran lawmaker loses appeal in defamation case

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduras’ Supreme Court has denied an appeal by a lawmaker convicted last year of slandering a prominent local banker.

María Luisa Borjas was convicted of defamation and sentenced to nearly three years in prison for naming Camilo Atala, president of Ficohsa bank, as a suspected mastermind in the 2016 killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres. She made the statement in 2017 while she was running for a seat in Honduras’ Congress.

Atala has denied the allegations and has not been charged in the case.

For a sentence of that length, Borjas has the option of paying a fine instead of serving time in prison. She could eventually lose her seat in Congress once all of her legal appeals are exhausted.

Court spokesman Melvin Duarte said Tuesday the Supreme Court’s penal chamber rejected Borjas’ arguments about her sentence. He said it would be up to Borjas’ legal team to analyze the decision and decide what to do with respect to the new penal code.

Edy Tabora of Honduras’ Committee for Freedom of Expression, who is representing Borjas, said he and his client still maintain it was a political judgment that lacked due process, because the president of the Supreme Court, Rolando Argueta, appointed himself to hear the original case. He said they would file another appeal.

“For us it is an issue of freedom of expression,” Tabora said. He said the decision sends a terrible message to those willing to speak out that sanctions can be imposed if they cannot prove all aspects of what they say.

Nine people have been convicted in Caceres’ murder. Her relatives, however, have said repeatedly there will not be justice until those who ordered the killing are prosecuted.