22 November 2012

Company drops defamation charges against Dominican Republic journalists

Source: International Press Institute

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(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Nov 21, 2012 – The Canadian multinational clothing manufacturer Gildan has agreed to drop criminal defamation and insult charges against two Dominican Republic investigative journalists, the International Press Institute (IPI) has learned from local sources.

After negotiations that lasted more than 12 hours, Gildan lawyers promised to abandon the legal action in return for a public statement from the two journalists, Genris García of vigilanteinformativo.com and Robert Vargas of ciudadoriental.org, declaring they had no proof the company was involved in an alleged assassination attempt on journalist Diego Tórres last July and apologising for any “imprecisions.”

García emphasised to IPI that the article in question, “¿Quién mandó a matarlo?; PN investiga atentado contra Diego Tórres” ("Who ordered to have him killed? National police investigating attack on Diego Tórres") did not make any accusations against Gildan, but simply reported that Torres had been working on a story about alleged environmental contamination from a Gildan factory in Bella Vista de Guerra at the time of the shooting.

The article made reference to suspicions raised about Gildan by local community members, one of whom was quoted as saying, “Those people kill,” referring to the Montréal-based company.

Speaking to IPI, García questioned why the company chose to redress their grievances through legal means, which could have resulted in the journalists' imprisonment, instead of releasing a statement denying what the company saw as an accusation against them. He added: “The role of journalists is not to cause damage to honour and good name, but rather to encourage debate and promote transparency.”

Despite repeated calls to Gildan's corporate headquarters, IPI was unable to speak with a representative who could offer a comment on the case.

“This suit appears to be a disturbing attempt on the part of a major multinational company to silence the work of two respected investigative journalists,” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said. “IPI is campaigning for the abolition of criminal defamation laws in the Caribbean precisely because of the chilling effect they can have on press freedom.”

The decision to drop charges comes a week after the Justice Committee of the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies indicated their intention to modify the country's penal code to remove criminal defamation and insult provisions, following lobbying by IPI and other press groups. IPI visited the Dominican Republic in June as part of its Caribbean campaign and issued a final report on its findings last month.

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