OFFICE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER THE DETERIORATION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE REGION
Washington, D.C., October 12, 2006. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern over the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region during the last quarter, covering the period July 1 to September 30, 2006. There has been an increase in physical violence against journalists, which has been manifest most brutally in at least seven murders and one disappearance apparently related to the exercise of journalism. Additionally, the delays on police investigations and judicial processes with respect to the murders of journalists perpetrated in the region in the last few years leads to impunity for these crimes and encourages their probable repetition. The Rapporteurship has also registered in the period covered by this report dozens of episodes of physical aggression against journalists, several attacks against mass media, several kidnappings and dozens of threats in practically all of Latin America, as well as several acts of prior censorship. In addition, many journalists face criminal processes for crimes like “desacato” (contempt) or defamation, and some courts, including a Supreme Court, have condemned journalists to jail in these cases, restricting freedom of expression and disregarding the doctrine and jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on this subject. In addition to these criminal processes against journalists, there are administrative processes against mass media.
In addition to the direct violations, the Special Rapporteurship observes an increasing tendency towards intolerance for criticism by several governments of the region. This is reflected in the recurrent use by authorities of subtler methods of restricting the press, that if analyzed in isolated form can seem relatively innocuous, but when observed as a whole indicate worrisome situations and tendencies in various countries. Such illegitimate and misdirected use of the public power includes the application of discriminatory policies in the allocation of official publicity, discrimination in providing access to official sources, dismissals from state and private media as a result of governmental pressure and administrative inspections by government bodies.
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Ignacio J. Alvarez, indicated that “freedom of expression not only implies the possibility to disseminate inconvenient or critical information about authorities, but also includes freedom from facing illegitimate consequences imposed by the State as a result.”
The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression also emphasizes positive developments in this period. Among them it emphasizes the confirmation of a conviction of two persons in Peru for the murder of a journalist and the definitive dismissal of the penal process against a journalist in the same country who had been charged with defamation; the stay of proceedings for defamation against a journalist in Costa Rica; and the modification made in Panama to the first draft of a bill to reform the Penal Code, by instructions of the President of the Republic and at the request of diverse sectors of civil society, to decriminalize crimes against honor of government officials or people involved in matters of public interest. In addition, the Special Rapporteurship emphasizes the approval in the State of Querétaro, México, of a norm that protects the confidentiality of the sources of information of journalists. Also, it positively emphasizes the veto of the president of Brazil of a law intended to limit the exercise of journalistic roles solely to people with university diplomas and the commitment of the President of Chile to legislate in favor of community radios.
This quarterly report, based on the daily monitoring of the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the situation of the right to the freedom of expression in the region, looks to emphasize the concerns and advances in the matter of freedom of expression, and to try to contribute to the adoption of the corrective measures that could be pertinent for a greater exercise of the right to the freedom of thought and expression. On the basis of the information received in the last quarter, which is detailed in the annex to the present communiqué, the Special Rapporteurship shows the following:
The Special Rapporteurship expresses its concern over the repeatedly denounces of press and mass media organizations in the matter of freedom of expression in the country. The information received refers to the use of different forms of coercion by the government on the press that maintains a stance that is critical of it, the existence of a discriminatory policy in the allocation of official publicity, the numerous hostile declarations made by high authorities of the state against the press, and the threats and acts of aggression against communicators and their families. It was noted, for example, that the day after a speech by the President in which he made accusations against a journalist, the journalist received telephone threats. Also, the decision to take a program of the state television channel off the air was interpreted as retaliation against its conductor, who is critical of the government.
The Special Rapporteurship received information on several acts of physical aggression against journalists. In addition, a television channel was attacked on September 8 with an incendiary bomb.
The Special Rapporteurship reiterates that it deplores the murders of the journalists Manoel Paulino da Silva and Ajuricaba Monassa de Paula. The Special Rapporteurship laments the kidnapping of the reporter Guilherme Portanova and the technical assistant Alexandre Coelho Calado, of TV Globo, on the part of members of a criminal group. In addition, it expresses its concern over the aggressions, attacks and threats against communicators, the confiscation by the Federal Police of the writing equipment of the newspaper Hoje and the decision to close two community radio stations. Also, it expresses its concern over the high number of cases of prior censorship on the part of the judicial branch and the 8-month jail sentences for the journalists Edilberto Resende da Silva, Jaino Batista Nascimento and Ermógenes Jacinto de Sousa for the crime of defamation. Regarding positive facts, the Special Rapporteurship emphasizes the decision of the President of Brazil to veto a law that demanded a university diploma for the exercise of several journalistic roles.
The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression emphasizes the commitment expressed by the President of Chile on July 11 to legislate in favor of community radios.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates that it deplores the murders of the journalists Milton Fabian Sanchez and Atilano Perez Barrios and expresses concern over the cases of physical aggressions. Also, it worries the Special Rapporteurship that a police major and an army colonel exercised prior censorship, the first when he obligated photojournalists to show their films of a confrontation between police and traveling salespeople and the second when he prevented the exhibition of a documentary on a massacre. Also, it is worrisome that two indigenous communicators were detained a day before the beginning of the First Encounter of Indigenous Communication of Colombia.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression considers positive the definitive stay of proceedings against the journalist Ana Maria Navarro, denounced for defamation by a mayor.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates its concern over the situation of the imprisoned journalists and over that of the independent journalists who try to work in Cuba, who live under constant harassment on the part of the dictatorship. According to information received, independent journalists were arbitrarily and repeatedly imprisoned, and were physically attacked and threatened by agents of the State. In addition, materials like notebooks and pencils were confiscated, and in one the telephone from which press reports were emitted was disconnected arguing that it was being used for counterrevolutionary purposes. The Special Rapporteurship emphasizes that after the transfer of governmental power on July 31 it has not perceived any change in the situation of total lack of respect for freedom of thought and expression in Cuba. The Special Rapporteurship is once again urging the CubanState to release imprisoned journalists and to respect the right of all Cubans to freedom of thought and expression.
The Special Rapporteurship expresses its concern over the aggressions suffered by fourteen journalists when they tried to cover a protest, and over the threats that, according to information received, were made by the office of the mayor of Guazapa saying that it would dismantle the closed circuit radio station “Voces Juveniles.”
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses its concern over the sentence of a federal court on September 21, which condemned the journalists Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle to jail for refusing to reveal the sources from which they obtained grand jury testimony from a case relating to presumed steroid use by professional athletes. Unlike the state laws in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the federal law does not protect journalists when they try to maintain the confidentiality of the identity of their sources. Principle 8 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights establishes: “Every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential.” The Office of the Special Rapporteur highlights as positive a federal bill on this issue that is currently under the consideration of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Federal Congress, and hopes that this bill will receive prompt consideration.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates that it deplores the murder of the journalist Eduardo Heriberto Maas Bol. In addition, it expresses its concern over the physical attacks and threats against journalists and over the closing of the community radio station Ixchel.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates that it deplores the murder by gunshots of five workers of the newspaper Kaieteur News during the assault on its headquarters last August.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses its concern over the cases of physical attacks against journalists and over the judicial proceedings initiated against the journalist Francisco Romero on the part of government officials for defamation.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates that it deplores the murder of the journalist Enrique Perea Quintanilla. Also, it reiterates its concern over the disappearance of the journalist Rafael Ortiz Martinez on July 8 in Coahuila, and over the numerous attacks, aggressions and threats against journalists and mass media that happened in this last quarter. Several of them took place in the State of Oaxaca, where the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo Oaxaqueño, APPO) occupied several radio stations. The Special Rapporteur follows with attention the case of the journalist Lydia Cacho, author of an investigation on pedophilia involving businessmen and politicians, who denounced being the victim of threats and ongoing harassment. On the positive side, the Special Rapporteurship emphasizes the approval in the Commission on Constitutional Issues of the Congress of the State of Querétaro of a norm that protects the professional secrecy of journalists.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses its concern over public expressions attributed to the President of the Republic, according to which he publicly urged the newspaper El Nuevo Diario to dismiss the journalist Oliver Bodán, who had investigated presumed irregularities in the management of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression highlights the modification in Panama to the bill to reform the Penal Code, by instruction of the President of the Republic and at the urging of various sectors of civil society, that would decriminalize crimes against honor when the allegedly offended person is a public official or a person involved in issues of public interest.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates its concern over the disappearance of journalist Enrique Galeano, missing since February 2006. According to the accusation by the Union of Journalists of Paraguay the investigations have not advanced. Additionally, the Office expresses concern over the threats against and harassment of journalists, and over the detention by the police of journalist Soledad Viera, who was interrogated about her news reporting
The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern over the attacks, aggressions and death threats against journalists, the judicial processes against journalists, the dismissal of Karina Borrero of the state TV channel for declaring that she would not work in that media if it became a “government flatterer,” and the negative atmosphere for the exercise of freedom of expression generated by the investigation announced by the Intelligence Commission of the National Congress against nongovernmental organizations. On the positive side, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes the definitive termination of the penal proceedings that a congressman begun for defamation against the journalist Cecilia Valenzuela and the confirmation of the 30-year prison sentence for two persons for the homicide of the radio journalist Alberto Rivera Fernandez.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression shows its concern over the prison sentence of three journalists accused of defamation and over the various cases of attacks, aggressions and threats suffered by communicators.
The Special Rapporteurship expresses its deep concern over a sentence of the Uruguay Supreme Court of Justice that reversed its own jurisprudence established in 1997, by condemning the journalist Carlos Dogliani Staricco to prison for defamation for the publication of an investigation on alleged fraud on the part of a mayor. Such decision is contrary to the standards of the inter-American system of human rights, according to which it is not proportionate in a democratic society to apply criminal sanctions in cases of offenses against the honor of public officials, who are subject to a greater degree of scrutiny by society. The public officials’ right to reputation and honor should be protected using proportionate civil sanctions and the right to rectification or reply. The above-mentioned judgment by the Supreme Court of Justice is regressive and tends to create an environment that is unfavorable for the exercise of freedom of expression. On the other hand, the Office of the Special Rapporteur shows its concern over the confiscation of equipment of a community radio station in Castillos, Rocha.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates that it deplores the murder of the journalist and political leader Jesus Flores Rojas. Also, the Special Rapporteurship expresses its concern over the physical aggressions and threats to journalists registered during the quarter and over the reopening of the criminal process against journalist Napoleón Bravo for the crime of contempt, for declarations that offended the Supreme Court of Justice. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also observes that the threat to demolish the headquarters of the newspaper Correo del Caroní subsists. On the positive side, the Special Rapporteur highlights the partial cancellation on the part of the Judicial Branch of the censorship imposed on the publication of information related to the case of the homicide of prosecutor Danilo Anderson in 2004.
Sources and denunciations
The sources taken into account for the elaboration of the present communiqué are mentioned at the end of the annexed chart. The States, as well as nongovernmental organizations, journalists, media and other people and institutions can send information to the Special Rapporteurship via electronic mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please direct questions or interview requests to the press and communication coordinator of the Office of the Special Rapporteur, Maria Isabel Rivero, (202)458-3796, email@example.com
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created in 1997 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For more information on the Office: http://www.cidh.org/relatoria