1 April 2004


Criminal defamation laws must be scrapped, ARTICLE 19 says

Incident details

Mauricio Herrera Ulloa


(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 30 March 2004 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Criminal defamation laws must be scrapped, ARTICLE 19 argues

In a written intervention submitted today in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, ARTICLE 19 argues that Costa Rica's criminal defamation laws are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. The intervention was made in the case of Ulloa and Rohrmoser v. Costa Rica, concerning the criminal conviction of a Costa Rican journalist for defamation.

The ARTICLE 19 intervention requests the Court to declare that criminal defamation laws are not a legitimate restriction on the right to freedom of expression. These laws have historically been the subject of serious abuse and have been used to suppress the right to freedom of expression, in the Americas and throughout the rest of the world. The intervention argues that use of the criminal law to redress harm to reputation cannot be justified as 'necessary' to protect the reputations of others because such laws are disproportionate to the harm done, particularly in view of the sanctions that may be imposed, and because other, less intrusive but effective means of protecting reputations exist. ARTICLE 19 also notes that the fines imposed in the present case, totalling more than USD150,000, went far beyond what was necessary to redress the harm to reputation.

The ARTICLE 19 intervention further argues that the Costa Rican defamation law is deficient as it fails to provide adequate safeguards for freedom of expression, over and beyond the fact that it is criminal in nature. It puts great restrictions on key defences and places the onus on the accused to prove the truth of his or her statements, even when the impugned statements are made on a matter of undisputed public interest. This was particularly relevant in the present case, which concerned statements regarding a public official. Costa Rican law also failed to take into account that the allegations made by Mr Ulloa had previously been published in respected foreign newspapers.

Note to editors:

1. The ARTICLE 19 intervention was submitted in the case of Ulloa and Rohrmoser v. Costa Rica, currently pending at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The complainant in this case, Mr Ulloa, is appealing his sentence for criminal defamation. On 24 January 2001, the Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica upheld his criminal conviction for defamation of Costa Rican honorary diplomat Felix Przedborski Chawa, for articles published about the latter in La Nación newspaper, a leading daily in Costa Rica. The articles contained, among other things, allegations that Mr. Przedborski had engaged in various illegal activities, largely based on reports in respected foreign newspapers. Upon conviction, Mr. Herrera Ulloa was sentenced to a fine of 300,000 colones (120 times the minimum wage) and his name was ordered to be entered into the Judicial Register of Criminals for ten years, while La Nación, being jointly liable, was fined 60,000,000 colones in moral damages, as well as 3,810,000 colones in personal damages.

2. ARTICLE 19's intervention can be found at http://www.article19.org/docimages/1740.doc


ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
6-8 Amwell Street
United Kingdom
info (@) article19.org
Fax:+44 20 7278 7660
Costa Rica

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