The SRFOE presents considerations after visit to Chile and invites society to provide additional information

May 20, 2024

Washington D.C. - In compliance with recommendation 48 of the country report "Situation of Human Rights in Chile", published in January 2022, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit to Chile between March 18 and 21 and within the framework of the Joint Follow-up Mechanism on the Recommendations of the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Chile (MESECH). In a mission led by Commissioner José Luis Caballero Ochoa as Country Rapporteur for Chile and technical teams from the Secretariat, the SRFOE participated in very useful sessions to monitor the situation of freedom of expression in the country. The Office of the Special Rapporteur announces its availability to receive additional information for the preparation of its report and to formulate recommendations.

The Rapporteur met with the Minister Secretary General of Government of Chile, Camila Vallejo Dowling, as well as with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, and various State authorities. On this occasion, the Rapporteur was also present at the signing of the Compliance Agreement in Case 12.799 (Radio Estrella case). The Special Rapporteur is grateful for the support provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its Human Rights Division, and appreciates the facilities provided for the visit. The Office of the Special Rapporteur received valuable information on the right to freedom of expression, the measures adopted and in progress to guarantee it, and the challenges that remain in this area. The Rapporteur met with the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in South America, Jan Jarab, and his technical team.

The Rapporteurship received information from journalists and communicators; representatives and directors of national and community media; academia and representatives of civil society organizations that monitor the situation of freedom of expression on the Internet and that fight against gender, sexual, racial, ethnic and national origin discrimination. This office recognizes the efforts and actions of various civil society entities committed to the promotion and defense of freedom of expression to organize activities and meetings within the framework of this official visit. The Rapporteur thanks the activists, journalists and human rights defenders who attended the working sessions and presented their reports, stories and testimonies to the delegation.

The Special Rapporteur urges the authorities to continue to take action on reports of violence against journalists in the country, referring mainly to organized crime and its expansive deployment in the recent past. In a leading role and as a deep wound in Chilean journalism, the Rapporteur highlights the murder of journalist Francisca Sandoval in the context of a protest in 2022, where although there is public information on the progress in the criminal proceedings and the upcoming oral trial against the accused, the SRFOE received reports of dissatisfaction about the scope of the investigations and heard reproaches about not sufficiently inspecting institutional omissions that could have facilitated the crime. Similarly, the Rapporteurship calls for the clarification of reports of abuses by public security forces.

Among others, the SRFOE registers allegations and cases in which responsibility for wiretapping and spying on journalists is established, as well as reports on the activation and permanence of criminal proceedings against journalists who have investigated matters of public interest. In addition to the journalists' complaints, community media and some civil society organizations that promote the rights of historically discriminated groups are also facing legal proceedings that they consider are aimed at limiting the scope of their voice in the public debate. The lawsuits filed against these groups of people would also produce a particular effect of self-censorship.

For the preparation of this press release, the State authorities have indicated that they view with concern the complaints received by the Rapporteurship. In relation to the judicial proceedings against journalists, the State indicated that, according to the information available, some of the complaints filed against journalists and communicators by individuals or local authorities, who have felt affected by the journalistic or communications work, have been declared inadmissible by the courts. In relation to the complaints about telephone tapping and espionage, the State authorities have indicated that these situations have been aired in the courts, and at least one judge has been indicted for authorizing this type of interventions, as well as a former Army intelligence officer.

The State of Chile has expressed its willingness to constructively raise objective information on these matters in order to identify situations affecting freedom of expression, information and the press and to adopt appropriate measures, within the framework of the rule of law and the protection, guarantee and promotion of human rights.

On the other hand, with regard to diversity and pluralism in journalism, the considerations on media concentration, its implications for freedom of expression and the right to an informed society were reiterated. Despite acknowledging the existence of State policies aimed at reserving the radio spectrum, the Rapporteur received complaints about the concentration of a large part of the concessions in the hands of a few players. According to the delegation, the current regulation would encourage the main commercial frequency concessions to remain indefinitely under the same administration. In dialogues on plurality, it was pointed out that participation in the media does not necessarily reflect the diversity of Chilean society. The SRFOE highlights with particular concern the reports on the existence of powers in local authorities that could lead to the closure of community radio stations. According to the report, the mere existence of these powers already generates self-censorship that affects the confidence to broadcast some contents due to the fear of reprisals.

In the area of access to public information, the Rapporteurship has recognized the performance of the Chilean guarantor bodies. However, during the visit, this Office learned of reports on alleged restrictions to requests for access to information and the repeated extension of response deadlines. It also reported on the challenges for the full operation of the Transparency Council for months due to the delay in the appointment of councilors when some positions became vacant, which would have made it difficult for the planned institutional architecture to adequately respond to the body's daily controversies.

The Special Rapporteur notes positively that Chile has provided spaces to address challenges related to the digital environment through the installation of the Commission against Disinformation, an instance activated by the Ministry of Science in accordance with previous methodologies in which the State turns to academia and civil society to discuss and understand the country's challenges. The SRFOE takes note of the criticisms of the Commission from different sectors and considers the analyses produced by this mechanism to be relevant. After an open hearing with the members of the Commission, the Special Rapporteur appreciates both the process and the result that addresses the state of the conversation and records the special care that the Commission and its members gave to the right to freedom of expression. While the criticisms had a valuable effect in that they raised social awareness of the Commission's work - and therefore contributed to the quality of the process and the outcome - it is also true that some relevant actors distanced themselves from a conversation that involved them and in which their opinion and participation was important.

The Rapporteurship encourages the State, together with interested parties, to advance the debate on the adoption of the recommendations of the Commission against Disinformation and to formulate best practices that can address the various challenges to ensure freedom of expression online, including for historically silenced groups. In this regard, during the visit, there were reports of the dissemination of stigmatizing messages online that encourage bullying and harassment, which can manifest themselves in expressions of discrimination and violence based on ethno-racial origin, socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality, political identity and regional origin.

The SRFOE takes this opportunity to appreciate the initiative of the Chilean State to host the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2024, with the theme "The Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis", committing its institutions and representatives in the dissemination of international standards for the protection of freedom of expression. Finally, the Rapporteurship informs about the opening of a process of receiving additional information, which extends until May 31, from which it will proceed to analyze the information received and prepare its report on the situation of freedom of expression in the country.

The Office invites entities and organizations to send information, which can be sent by e-mail: [email protected].

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. R108/24

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