14 June 2006

ARCHAIC DEFAMATION LAWS HAMPER PRESS FREEDOM


Outdated defamation laws used to silence critical journalism in Costa Rica are incompatible with international human rights standards and fly in the face of recent rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, say the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The groups' concerns follow a Supreme Court ruling on 3 May 2006 that upheld the 1902 "Ley de Imprenta". Under Article 7 of the statute, anyone convicted of defaming or insulting another individual in the print media can be jailed for up to 120 days.

The Supreme Court ruling struck down an appeal filed by a lawyer representing the daily newspaper "Diario Extra". Three of the newspaper's journalists - Gabriela Chaves Pérez, Marcos Leandro Camacho and José Luis Jiménez Robleto - had been convicted in February and March 2004 under Article 7 and given suspended prison sentences.

CPJ says the ruling is disturbing given that Costa Rica's penal code does not allow for prison sentences for the same offences. Articles 145, 146 and 147 mandate only fines.

A July 2004 judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which hears cases in which governments are alleged to have violated the American Convention on Human Rights, makes it clear that criminal defamation laws are incompatible with international human rights treaties.

In that case, the Inter-American Court quashed the conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, who was sentenced in 1999 by a Costa Rican court for criminal defamation.

It ruled that Costa Rica had "violated the right to freedom of thinking and expression" under Article 13 of the Convention. Costa Rica is a signatory to the Convention and like the 20 other countries in the Americas that have ratified the treaty, must abide by the Inter-American Court's rulings.

The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), which lobbies governments in the Americas to decriminalise defamation laws, says by carrying the threat of imprisonment, such laws have a chilling effect on the media and serve to shield public officials from scrutiny.

Visit these links:

- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/protests/06ltrs/americas/costa08june06pl.html- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=17620- WPFC: http://www.wpfc.org/CampaignAgainstInsultLaws.html- Institute for the Press and Free Expression: http://www.iplexcr.org/index.htm- Inter-American Court of Human Rights: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/seriec_ing/seriec_107_ing.doc

Costa Rica

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