24 February 2005


ARTICLE 19 calls for repeal of criminal defamation provisions

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 21 February 2005 ARTICLE 19 letter to Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic:

H.E. Daniel Lipsic
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
?upné námestie 13
813 11 Bratislava
Fax: + 421 2 59353 607

21st February 2005

Dear Minister,

I am writing on behalf of ARTICLE 19 in relation to the draft Slovak Criminal Code, which we understand is currently being reviewed by the government and is scheduled for debate in Parliament in March. We urge you to take this opportunity to repeal all criminal penalties for defamation and insult in order to bring Slovakia's legislation into line with international standards of freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the steps Slovakia has already taken in reforming outdated criminal provisions, in particular the repeal of Articles 102 and 103 following the ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2002, and the removal of paragraph 3 of Article 156. We urge you to take this opportunity to complete the reform process by removing Article 331, which provides for a prison sentence of up to one year for insulting or slandering a representative of a state organ, and Article 384, which provides for a maximum term of five years for public defamation of an ordinary person.

Both these Articles are problematic in the light of international standards. The European Court of Human Rights has asserted in a number of cases the high degree of protection which should be awarded to speech which is critical of those in public office and the greater tolerance of public scrutiny that politicians and public officials should display in a democratic society. In addition, it is now well-established that unduly harsh penalties, such as prison sentences or high fines, represent a breach of the right to freedom of expression even if the circumstances justify some sanction for abuse of the right to reputation.[1]

In addition to calling for the removal of prison sanctions and undue protection for public officials, ARTICLE 19 advocates for the complete decriminalization of defamation. In this we are supported by the three international mandates set up to defend and promote the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have stated on a number of occasions that criminal defamation provisions are not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression.[2]

In particular, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has appealed to all European countries to repeal their criminal defamation and insult laws and most recently urged the Polish authorities to put in force a moratorium on the use of restrictive laws, pending reform of their Criminal Code.[3]

We sincerely hope that, as a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe, Slovakia will use this opportunity to lead other EU states by example in abolishing criminal defamation and introducing new civil legislation to deal with libel and slander.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Agnès Callamard
Executive Director

[1] See for example, Lingens v. Austria, 8 July 1986, Application No. 9815/82 (European Court of Human Rights), at para. 42 & para. 44

[2] See for example, the Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, London, December 2002.

[3] See OSCE Press Release, 25 January 2005 http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?id=4666
Copied to:

Pavol Hru?kovský
Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic
National Council of the Slovak Republic
Námestie Alexandra Dubyeka
812 80 Bratislava
Fax: + 421 2 54415460


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