Freedom of Expression

Press Release 70/03


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, condemns the detention of journalist María Isabel Arvide Limón. On March 4, 2003, agents of the State of Chihuahua detained journalist Arvide Limón by order of Judge Octavio Rodríguez Gaytan of the Second Criminal Court of the judicial district of Morelos, in Aquiles Serdan, Chihuahua. The detention order was produced as a consequence of a criminal action for defamation brought against the journalist by the head of the Office of the State´s attorney in Chihuahua, Jesús José Solís. According to the information received by the Rapporteurship, journalist Isabel Arvide was in the city of Chihuahua to appear before Judge Octavio Rodríguez, given that she had been released on bond on August 17, 2002 in another case where she was also accused of defamation by Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda. During the last eight years, Isabel Arvide has reported in different media the situations of corruption and involvement of corporations and police agents with the drug trafficking in the State of Chihuahua. According to the information received, the journalist was released on bond on March 5 in the afternoon. 

The Special Rapporteur recalls what is stated in Principles 10 and 11 of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression:

 10.     Privacy laws should not inhibit or restrict investigation and dissemination of information of public interest. The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. In addition, in these cases, it must be proven that in disseminating the news, the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news. 


11.     Public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as “desacato laws,” restrict freedom of expression and the right to information.    

The Rapporteur has stated repeatedly that “ desacato laws give a higher level of protection to public officials than is offered to private citizens. This is in direct contravention to the fundamental principle in a democratic system that holds the government subject to controls, such as public scrutiny, in order to preclude or control abuse of its coercive powers.” In this matter, Bertoni added, “the foregoing is serious because of the paralyzing effect it produces on those who want to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression
March 6, 2003

Washington, D.C.