11 August 2004


The Inter American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has struck down a defamation sentence against Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, ruling that the Costa Rican government violated the American Convention on Human Rights. The decision is binding on Costa Rica and could have implications for other Latin American countries with criminal defamation laws.

In a decision dated 2 July 2004, the court ruled that Costa Rica "violated the right to freedom of thinking and expression" under Article 13 of the Convention, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontierès, RSF).

The court ordered the Costa Rican government to pay Herrera Ulloa US$20,000 in damages and US$10,000 for legal fees. The court also called for changes to Costa Rican legislation to guarantee an effective appeal procedure. The Costa Rican government says it will abide by the ruling, which effectively quashes a 12 November 1999 conviction against Herrera Ulloa.

Herrera Ulloa, a journalist for the daily newspaper "La Nación," had been convicted by Costa Rica's Penal Court of the First Judicial Circuit for citing European press reports in his articles which alleged that former Costa Rican diplomat Félix Przedborski was involved in corrupt activities. He was ordered to pay 60 million colones (approx. US$200,000) in damages and fined 120 days' worth of wages. The IACHR agreed to hear Herrera Ulloa's case after Costa Rica's Supreme Court rejected his appeal in January 2001.

In an interview with WPFC, the Organization of American States' Special Rapporteur on Free Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, says this is the first time the IACHR has established jurisprudence on Article 13 involving a journalist convicted for publishing information in the public interest. He says the ruling could have implications for other countries in Latin America that have ratified the Convention. "This sentence is a very important step forward for the jurisprudence the Inter-American Court has been establishing in the field of freedom of expression."

Several IFEX members have actively monitored Herrera Ulloa's case over the years. In recent months, CPJ, WPFC, IAPA, ARTICLE 19 and PERIODISTAS provided amicus curiae briefs to the IACHR in defence of the journalist's right to free expression.

The IACHR's ruling is currently available in Spanish only: http://www.cpj.org/news/2004/seriec_107_esp.pdf
Visit these links:

- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2004/Costa04aug04na.html- IACHR: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/index_ing.html- American Convention on Human Rights: http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/Treaties/b-32.htm- WPFC: http://www.wpfc.org/index.jsp?page=News- ARTICLE 19: http://www.article19.org/docimages/1739.doc- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11101- IAPA: http://www.sipiapa.org- PERIODISTAS: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/57383/

Costa Rica

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