Peruvian Biologist’s Defamation Conviction Overturned
– Lucas Laursen, Nature, January 12, 2011
A defamation case that hinges on a dispute over the presence of genetic modification in Peruvian maize crops, and that has attracted international attention, has moved back to square one – with a twist.
Biologist Ernesto Bustamante Donayre was last April found guilty of defamation – a criminal offence in Peru – for publicly criticizing a report published by a fellow biologist. Last month, however, the conviction was overturned: the appeal judge found that a lower court had not demonstrated that Bustamante had sufficient motivation to harm or defame his alleged victim. SNIP
The case began in 2008, when Antonietta Ornella Gutiérrez Rosati of La Molina National Agricultural University in Lima accused Bustamante, the scientific director of private genetic-screening firm BioGenómica, of defaming her by publicly criticizing a study she wrote and publicized that reported evidence of transgenic maize in Peru. SNIP
Gutiérrez, who did not respond to an interview request, may still take the suit to another lower court, although the appeals judge recommended that the case go to a pre-trial conciliation hearing first. SNIP… the National Institute for Agrarian Innovation (INIA) in Lima has tried to replicate Gutiérrez’s findings in Barranca but has failed to find genetically modified varieties of native maize, despite examining 162 samples.
“In the conciliation hearing I’ll most likely use that as a proof that what I said at that time was later found to be actually true,” Bustamante says. A finding in his favour will discourage other scientists from taking each other to court, Bustamante adds. “It would have been nice to have a judge come out and say, ‘Yes, science should not be taken to court’, but that’s not for lawyers to say. That’s for us scientists to state and to express and to fight for.”
Science lives on in Peru