10 March 2004

Alert

Freedom House files amicus curiae brief calling for reversal of financial penalty against newspaper publishing company


Incident details

Dudley Stokes

legal action
(Freedom House/IFEX) - The following is a 9 March 2004 Freedom House press release:

FREEDOM HOUSE FILES AMICUS BRIEF TO SUPPORT CARIBBEAN PRESS FREEDOM

NEW YORK, March 9, 2004 -- The government of Jamaica should reverse an onerous financial penalty against a major Jamaican newspaper publishing company, Freedom House has requested in an amicus curiae brief presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In 1996 former Jamaican Minister of Tourism, Anthony Abrahams, won a libel suit against the Gleaner Company Limited and Mr. Dudley Stokes, a former editor in chief of several Gleaner newspapers in Jamaica.

In support of Mr. Stokes, the Freedom House amicus brief argues that the large financial penalty against the Gleaner Company represents a severe blow to freedom of the press in the Caribbean region. As the brief notes, the judgment, far from providing a balanced, proportional corrective to alleged libel, has imposed a burden and a threat that may easily lead to destructive self-censorship by the press -- a distinct loss of freedom in any democratic society.

The case centered on a story written by the Associated Press that appeared in three Gleaner newspapers on September 17, 1987, about a U.S. federal investigation into the activities of Mr. Abrahams -- a member of the Jamaican Parliament at the time -- in relation to an income tax evasion scheme uncovered by the Internal Revenue Service.

The AP article reported allegations that Mr. Abrahams received bribes from American advertising executives. Mr. Abrahams denied the allegations, which Mr. Stokes published in his newspapers, but Mr. Abrahams claimed that the Gleaner Company committed libel against him. A judgment of approximately $1 million (U.S.) was awarded to Mr. Abrahams in penalties, interest and costs.

Mr. Stokes is currently appealing his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to reverse the Jamaican court's decision. He lost all prior appeals before Jamaican courts and before a privy council in London in 2003, which ordered the Gleaner Company to pay damages.

Freedom House has urged the commission to rebuke the Government of Jamaica for denying Mr. Stokes protection for his freedom of expression and, by extension, threatening the citizens of Jamaica with restricted access to diverse information. Freedom House also requested that the financial judgment against Mr. Stokes and the Gleaner Company be reversed.

The complete amicus curiae brief, prepared by Freedom House Senior Scholar Leonard Sussman, is available online at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/specreports/amicus.pdf


Source

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Jamaica
 
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