Freedom of Expression

Decisions and Judgments of the Inter-American Court


  • Case of “The Last Temptation of Christ” (Olmedo-Bustos et al.) v. Chile.
    Judgment of February 5, 2001. This case dealt with prohibition of prior censorship. The Court’s decision led to an exemplary constitutional reform in Chile and to the establishment of an important hemispheric standard in this area.

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Olmedo_28_11_02 (only in Spanish) | tentacion_28_11_03
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)
    Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case of Ivcher-Bronstein v. Peru.
    Judgment of February 6, 2001. The petitioner was a naturalized citizen of Peru who was a majority shareholder in a television channel that aired a program that was severely critical of certain aspects of the Peruvian government, including cases of torture, abuse and acts of corruption committed by the Peruvian Intelligence Services. As a result of these reports, the State revoked the petitioner’s Peruvian citizenship and removed his shareholding control of the channel. The judgment of the Inter-American Court found that the government’s actions had violated the right to freedom of expression through indirect restrictions and ordered the State to restore the victim’s rights.

    Judgment: Competence | Merits, Reparations and Costs | Interpretation of the Judgment on the Merits
    Compliance with Judgment: Castillo_01_06_01_ing.pdf | Ivcher_21_09_05 (only in Spanish) | Ivcher_27_02_09 (only in Spanish) | Ivcher_24_11_09 | Ivcher_27_08_10
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)
    Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case of Herrera-Ulloa v. Costa Rica.
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    Judgment of July 2, 2004. This case involved a journalist who had published several articles reproducing information from various European newspapers on alleged illegal conduct by a Costa Rican diplomat. The State convicted the journalist on four defamation charges. The Inter-American Court found that the conviction was disproportionate and that it violated the right to freedom of expression, and ordered, among other things, the nullification of criminal Files against the journalist.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Herrera_12_09_05 (only in Spanish) | Herrera_22_09_06
    Herrera_02_06_09 (only in Spanish) | Herrera_09_07_09 | Herrera_22_11_10
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)
    Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case of Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay.
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    Judgment of August 31, 2004. During the 1993 presidential campaign in Paraguay, candidate Ricardo Canese made statements to the media against candidate Juan Carlos Wasmosy, whom he accused of being involved in irregularities related to the construction of a hydroelectric plant. Canese was prosecuted and sentenced to four months in prison, among other restrictions to his basic rights. The Inter-American Court found that the conviction was disproportionate and violated the right to freedom of expression. The Court also underscored the importance of freedom of expression during election campaigns, in the sense that people should be fully entitled to raise questions about candidates so that voters can make informed decisions.

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Canese_02_02_06 | Canese_22_09_06 | Canese_10_12_07 (only in Spanish) | Canese_06_02_08 | Canese_06_08_08 |
    Application filed by IACHR
    (only in Spanish)
    Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case Palamara-Iribarne v. Chile.
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    Judgment of November 22, 2005. Palamara, a former military official, had written a book that was critical of the National Navy. The book gave rise to a military criminal trial for “disobedience” and “breach of military duties,” and led the State to withdraw from circulation all existing physical and electronic copies. The Court ordered a legislative reform that would ensure freedom of expression in Chile, as well as publication of the book, restitution of all copies that had been seized, and reparation of the victim’s rights.

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Palamara_30_11_07 | Palamara_15_12_08 (only in Spanish) | Palamara_21_09_09
    Application filed by IACHR (original in Spanish) | Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)
    Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case Claude-Reyes et al. v. Chile.
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    Judgment of September 19, 2006. This case addresses the State’s refusal to provide Marcelo Claude Reyes, Sebastián Cox Urrejola and Arturo Longton Guerrero with certain information that they requested from the Foreign Investment Committee regarding forestry company Trillium and the Río Cóndor project, a deforestation project that was being carried out in Chile. In this ruling, the Inter-American Court recognized that the right to access to information is a human right protected under Article 13 of the American Convention.

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Reyes_02_05_08 | Reyes_10_06_08 (only in Spanish) | Reyes_24_11_08
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish) | Files before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

  • Case Kimel v. Argentina.
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    Judgment of May 2, 2008. The decision refers to the conviction of a journalist who in a book had criticized the conduct of a criminal judge in charge of investigating a massacre. The judge initiated a criminal proceeding in defense of his honor. The Inter-American Court found that the journalist’s punishment was disproportionate and violated the victim’s right to freedom of expression. In its decision, the Inter-American Court ordered the State to, among other things, provide the victim with reparations and reform its criminal legislation on the protection of honor and reputation, finding that it violated the principle of criminal definition or strict legality.

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Kimel_18_05_10 | Kimel_15_11_10
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)

  • Case of Tristán Donoso v. Panama.
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    Judgment of January 27, 2009. This judgment refers to the proportionality of the sanctions imposed on a lawyer convicted of the crimes of defamation and slander for having declared during a press conference that a State official had recorded his private telephone conversations and had disclosed them to third parties. The Inter-American Court concluded that the State violated the lawyer’s right to freedom of expression, since the criminal conviction imposed as a form of subsequent liability was unnecessary. The Inter-American Court also established criteria on the intimidating and inhibiting nature of disproportionate civil sanctions.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Compliance with Judgment: Tristan_01_09_10
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)

  • Case Rios et al. v. Venezuela.
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    Judgment of January 28, 2009. The judgment refers to different public and private acts that limited the journalistic endeavors of the workers, management, and others associated with the RCTV television station, as well as to certain speeches by agents of the State against the station. The Inter-American Court found that such speeches were incompatible with the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information “since they could have resulted intimidating for those linked with that communication firm.” The Inter-American Court also found that the State’s responsibility for the other acts that were alleged had not been proven, but reiterated its doctrine on indirect restrictions to freedom of expression. Finally, the Inter-American Court ordered the State to diligently conduct investigations and criminal Files for acts of violence against the journalists and to adopt “the necessary measures to avoid illegal restrictions and direct or indirect impediments to the exercise of the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information.”

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case of Perozo et al. v. Venezuela.
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    Judgment of January 28, 2009. This judgment involved statements by public officials and other alleged hindrances to the exercise of freedom of expression, such as acts of violence by private actors against individuals linked to the Globovisión television station. The Inter-American Court found that statements made by high-level public officials and State authorities’ omissions in terms of their obligation to act with due diligence in investigating acts of violence against journalists constituted violations of the State’s obligation to prevent and investigate the facts. The Inter-American Court found that the State’s responsibility for the other acts that were alleged had not been proven, but reiterated its doctrine on indirect restrictions to freedom of expression. Finally, the Court ordered the State to diligently conduct investigations and criminal Files for acts of violence against journalists and to adopt “the necessary measures to prevent the undue restrictions and direct and indirect impediments to the exercise of the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information.”

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case Usón Ramírez v. Venezuela.
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    Judgment of November 20, 2009. Usón, a retired military officer, was convicted of the crime of “slander against the National Armed Forces,” after appearing on a television program and expressing critical opinions regarding the institution’s reaction in the case of a group of soldiers who had been severely injured while in a punishment cell. The Inter-American Court found that the criminal law used to convict Usón did not comply with the principle of legality because it was ambiguous, and concluded that the application of the criminal law in the case was not appropriate, necessary and proportional. The Inter-American Court ordered the State, inter alia, to vacate the military justice Files against the victim and modify, within a reasonable time, the criminal law employed in his case.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case of Manuel Cepeda Vargas v. Colombia.
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    Judgment dated May 26, 2010. This case refers to the extrajudicial execution of Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas, who was a leader in the National Council of the Colombian Communist Part and a prominent figure in the political party Unión Patriótica. The Court held that in cases like this one, it is possible to illegally restrict freedom of expression through de facto conditions that put the person exercising freedom of expression at risk. The Court found that the State, “must abstain from acting in a way that fosters, promotes, favors or deepens such vulnerability(1)and it has to adopt, whenever appropriate, the measures that are necessary and reasonable to prevent or protect the rights of those who are in that situation(2).” Likewise, the Court found that effects on the right to life or personal integrity that are attributable to the State can mean a violation of Article 16(1) of the Convention when the cause is connected with the legitimate exercise of the victim’s right to freedom of association(3). In this sense, the Court highlighted that opposition voices are “essential in a democratic society” and indicated that “in a democratic society States must guarantee the effective participation of opposition individuals, groups and political parties by means of appropriate laws, regulations and practices that enable them to have real and effective access to the different deliberative mechanisms on equal terms, but also by the adoption of the required measures to guarantee its full exercise, taking into consideration the situation of vulnerability of the members of some social groups or sectors(4).” .” Finally, the Court found that although Senator Cepeda Vargas was able to exercise his political rights, his freedom of expression and freedom of association, “the fact that he continued to exercise them was obviously the reason for his extrajudicial execution,” meaning that the State “did not create either the conditions or the due guarantees for Senator Cepeda (...) to have the real opportunity to exercise the function for which he had been democratically elected; particularly, by promoting the ideological vision he represented through his free participation in public debate, in exercise of his freedom of expression. In the final analysis, the activities of Senator Cepeda Vargas were obstructed by the violence against the political movement to which he belonged and, in this sense, his freedom of association was also violated.”

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case of Gomes Lund et. al. v. Brazil.
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    Judgment dated November 24, 2010.The case addresses the arbitrary detention, torture and forced disappearance of 70 people as the result of operations of the Brazilian army between 1972 and 1975. The purpose of the operations was to eradicate the so-called Araguaia Guerrillas. The operations took place in the context of the Brazilian military dictatorship. The case also addressed the damage to the right to access to information that the family members of the victims suffered. In this respect, the Inter-American Court reiterated its jurisprudence on the right to freedom of thought and expression, which has held that Article 13 of the American Convention protects the right of all individuals to request information held by the State, with the safeguards permitted under the Convention’s regime of exceptions. In addition, the Inter-American Court established that in cases of violations of human rights, State authorities cannot resort to citing State secrecy, the confidentiality of information, or public interest or national security in order to avoid turning over the information required by the judicial or administrative authorities in charge of the investigation. Likewise, the Court held that when the investigation of a crime is at issue, the decision whether to classify the information as secret and refuse to turn it over - or to determine if the documentation even exists - can never depend exclusively on a state body whose members have been accused of committing the illicit act. Finally, the Court concluded that the State cannot resort to the lack of evidence of the existence of the documents requested by the victims or their family members. On the contrary, it must back up its denial of documents by demonstrating that it has taken all available measures to prove that, in effect, the requested information does not exist. In this sense, the Court indicated that in order to guarantee the right to access to information, government authorities must act in good faith and diligently carry out the actions necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the right to freedom of thought and expression, especially when the request for information involves learning the truth of what happened in cases of serious human rights violations like forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution, as was the case here.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)

  • Case Fontevecchia and D'Amico v. Argentina.
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    Judgment of November 29, 2011. The case refers to the civil punishment imposed on Messrs. Jorge Fontevecchia and Hector D'Amico, director and editor, respectively, of the magazine "Noticias, through judgments issued by Argentine courts as subsequent liability for the publication of two articles, in November of 1995. These publications referred to the existence of an unrecognized son of Carlos Saúl Menem, then President of the Nation, with a congresswoman; the relationship between the President and the congresswoman; and the relationship between the President and his son. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation found that the right to privacy of Mr. Menem had been violated by the publications. The Inter-American Court found that the information published was of public interest and that it was already in the public domain. Therefore, there was no arbitrary interference with the right to privacy of Mr. Menem. Thus, the measure of subsequent liability imposed did not comply with the requirement of being necessary in a democratic society, and constituted a violation of Article 13 of the American Convention.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR (only in Spanish)

  • Case González Medina y Familiares v. República Dominicana.
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    Judgment of February 27, 2012. In this judgment, the Court found the Dominican State responsible for violating Narciso González Medina's rights to personal liberty, personal integrity, life, and recognition of juridical personality. In May 1994, the lawyer, professor, and journalist Narciso González Medina was forcibly disappeared, and his whereabouts were still unknown as of the date of the Court's decision. Days before his disappearance, González had published an opinion piece in a magazine called La Muralla and had given a speech at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD, in its Spanish acronym), in both of which he had denounced corruption and electoral fraud. The Court was able to establish that the context of González Medina's disappearance was characterized by “an extremely tense political climate owing to the alleged electoral fraud” in the May 1994 elections in the Dominican State; that the country “was almost under military control” at that time; and that “repressive methods were used against those who protested,” as were practices involving “harassment and surveillance of journalists and those who criticized the Government.” Although the Commission alleged that González Medina's exercise of freedom of expression and his forced disappearance were related, the Court did not find the Dominican State responsible for violating Article 13 because, according to the Court, it lacked competence ratione temporis in this case. The Court found that even though in previous cases “it has recognized that when the purpose of the violation of the rights to life, and to personal liberty or integrity is to impede the legitimate exercise of another right protected by the Convention (…), such as freedom of association (…) [or] freedom of expression, there is also an autonomous violation of these rights,” in this case it was not possible to establish international responsibility because “the beginning of the forced disappearance [had been] prior to the acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction,” and the Dominican Republican had not acquiesced to the facts or acknowledged its responsibility during the process. Thus, the Court “lacks competence [ratione temporis] to examine the alleged violation of the freedom of expression of (...) González Medina as an autonomous violation.”

    Judgment: Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case Velez Restrepo y Familiares v. Colombia.
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    Judgment of September 3, 2012. The case has to do with the attack perpetrated against journalist Luis Gonzalo “Richard” Vélez Restrepo by soldiers of the Colombian National Army while he was filming a protest demonstration in which soldiers from that institution beat several of the protesters. The case also involves the threats and harassment suffered by the journalist and his family, and the attempted arbitrary deprivation of liberty of the journalist, which occurred as Mr. Vélez tried to advance the judicial proceedings against his attackers. The Inter-American Court found the Colombian State responsible for violating the journalist's right to personal integrity and freedom of expression. It also found the State responsible for not having adequately protected Mr. Vélez, given the threats he had received, and for not having effectively investigated the attack he suffered and the subsequent harassments. The Court noted that “journalism can only be exercised freely when those who carry out this work are not victims or threats or physical, mental or moral attacks or other acts of harassment”; therefore, States “have the obligation to provide measures to protect the life and integrity of the journalists who face [a] special risk.” Among other reparation measures, the Court ordered the State to incorporate into its human rights education programs for the Armed Forces a special module on the protection of the right to freedom of thought and expression and on the work of journalists and media workers.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations, and Costs
    Application filed by ACHR

  • Case Uzcategui y Otros v. Venezuela.
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    Judgment of September 3, 2012. In this judgment, the Court found the Venezuelan State responsible for violating, among other things, the right to life of Néstor José Uzcátegui; the rights to personal liberty and personal integrity of the human rights defender Luis Enrique Uzcátegui and Carlos Eduardo Uzcátegui; and the right to freedom of expression of Luis Enrique Uzcátegui. In terms of this last matter, the judgment verifies that, in response to the murder of Néstor Uzcátegui, his brother, Luis Enrique not only reported the facts to the public prosecutor's office; he also asserted through various media outlets that, in his judgment, the General Commander of the State of Falcón Police Armed Forces at the time was responsible for several homicides carried out by “extermination groups” under his command. Upon making such assertions, Uzcátegui was intimidated and harassed. He was also the subject of a criminal complaint for defamation, filed by the police Commander concerned. The Court considered the acts of harassment and threats produced as a result of Uzcátegui's denunciations to have been proven. It also found that the assertions made publicly by Luis Enrique Uzcátegui could and should “be understood as part of a broader public debate on the possible implication of the State security forces in cases involving grave human rights violations.” Taking into account the relevance of such assertions, the Court found that the existence of the criminal proceedings, their duration in time, and the circumstance of the high rank of the person filing the complaint “could have generated a chilling or inhibiting effect on the exercise of freedom of expression, contrary to the State's obligation to guarantee the free and full exercise of this right in a democratic society.” As to the threats and intimidation, taking into account that “it is possible that freedom of expression may be unlawfully restricted by de facto conditions that directly or indirectly place those who exercise it at risk or in a situation of increased vulnerability,” the Court found that every State must “abstain from acting in a way that contributes to, stimulates, promotes or increases this vulnerability and must adopt, when pertinent, necessary and reasonable measures to prevent violations and protect the rights of those who find themselves in this situation.” In the case at hand, the Court deemed that the State did not prove that it had “taken sufficient and effective steps to prevent the acts of threats and harassment against Luis Enrique Uzcátegui in the particular context of Falcón state,” and therefore “it did not meet its obligation to adopt necessary and reasonable measures to effectively guarantee [his] rights to personal integrity and to freedom of thought and expression,” under the terms of the American Convention.

    Judgment: Merits and reparations.
    Application filed by IACHR (available only in Spanish)

  • Case of Norín Catriman et al. (leaders, members and activists of the Mapuche Indigeno
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    us People) v. Chile.
    Judgment of May 29, 2014. The case refers to criminal proceedings and sentences imposed on eight leaders, members and activists of the Mapuche Indigenous People, as perpetrators of crimes classified as terrorism in the application of the “Antiterrorist Law” [Ley Antiterrorista)], in a context of social protest aimed at recovering the ancestral territories. In its ruling, the Court examined the compatibility of accessory penalties imposed in the present case against the victims, leaving them disqualified for 15 years from “making use of a social communications medium or being the director or administrator of one, or performing duties associated with the issuance or dissemination of opinions or information.” The Court determined that the referred-to accessory penalty implies undue restriction of the victims’ exercise of the right to freedom of thought and expression. The Court added that, given that the victims are traditional authorities of the Mapuche Indigenous people who “are responsible for playing a determining role in communicating the interests and in the political, spiritual and social leadership of their respective communities,” the imposition of the referred-to accessory penalty “has restricted the possibility of participating in the dissemination of opinions, ideas and information by carrying out duties in the social communications media, which could limit the sphere of action of their right to freedom of thought and expression in the exercise of their duties as leaders or representatives of their communities.”

    Judgment: Merits, Reparations and Costs
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case of Granier et al. (Radio Caracas Televisión) v. Venezuela.
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    Judgment of June 22, 2015. The Inter-American Court held the State of Venezuela responsible for the violation of certain rights following the closing of the television channel Radio Caracas Televisión (“RCTV”) on May 27, 2007. The State had decided then not to renew the license assigned to RCTV and thereafter barring participation in administrative proceedings of a media outlet that was critical of the government. Specifically, the Court decided it was an indirect restriction on the right to freedom of expression of the executives and journalists for that media outlet, as well as a violation of the right to freedom of expression as it relates to the duty of non-discrimination.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs (only in Spanish)
    Application filed by IACHR

  • Case of López Lone et al. v. Honduras.
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    Judgment of October 5, 2015. The Court recognized the existing relationship between political rights, freedom of expression, right of assembly and freedom of association and that together all these rights make democracy possible. The relationship between these rights is manifested even more where there is rupture of institutional order after a coup d’état. In this regard the Court also noted that protests and expressions favoring democracy must have the highest level of protection possible and depending on the circumstances these may be tied with some or all of the aforementioned rights.

    Judgment: Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs (only in Spanish)
    Application filed by IACHR



(1) I/A Court H.R., Case of Perozo et al. v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of January 28, 2009. Series C No. 195, para. 118; I/A Court H.R., Case of Perozo et al. v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of January 28, 2009. Series C No. 194, para. 107. Also, inter alia, I/A Court H.R., Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants. Advisory Opinion OC-18/03. Series A No. 18, paras. 112 to 172; Case of the “Mapiripán Massacre” v. Colombia. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of March 7, 2005. Series C No. 122, paras. 173 to 189.

(2) I/A Court H.R., Case of Perozo et al. v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of January 28, 2009. Series C No. 194, para. 107; I/A Court H.R., Case of Perozo et al. v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of January 28, 2009. Series C No. 195, para. 118.

(3) I/A Court H.R., Case of Cantoral Huamaní and García Santa Cruz v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of July 10, 2007. Series C No. 167, para. 147.

(4) I/A Court H.R., Case of Yatama v. Nicaragua. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of June 23, 2005. Series C No. 127, para. 201;I/A Court H.R., Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants. Advisory Opinion OC-18/03. Series A No. 18, para. 89; I/A Court H.R., Juridical Condition and Human Rights of the Child. Advisory Opinion OC-17/02 dated August 28, 2002. Series A No. 17, para. 46.

  • Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism. November 13, 1985
    OC-5/85
  • Enforceability of the Right to Reply or Correction.
    August 29, 1986
    OC-7/86