Freedom of Expression

Press release R152/20

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses concern

over criminal investigation initiated in Chile against members of Las Tesis


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses concern over the criminal investigation initiated against the group of artist known as Las Tesis, which could lead to the criminalization of artistic expressions and protests protected by the right to freedom of expression.


Various media outlets reported that the Carabineros Police of the V Zone of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit with the Prosecutor of that zone for threats, attacks on the authority and incitement to violence against the police, holding a group of artists that conform Las Tesis feminist collective responsible for the commission of these alleged crimes.


According to the available information, the lawsuit was filed over a series of songs and audiovisual performances carried out by this group, which are broadcast on social media. In particular, the police highlighted the famous chant "A rapist in your path" that has become an emblematic expressive way of condemning gender violence in different parts of the region. It also highlighted a second video in which this group of activists report on police abuse in Latin America.


The State of Chile informed the Rapporteur’s Office that this is a specific denunciation, related to specific and determined facts that could constitute common crimes. The State added that in particular it is questioned that there could be incitement to violence constituting specific crimes, with calls to "set fire to the pacos"


However, the members of the group have disputed this content and pointed out that the phrase would not be part of the video. The Minister of Interior in Chile publicly supported the lawsuit.


Various local media also reported that the Valparaíso Prosecutor's Office initiated an investigation and ordered a series of measures, including a request of providing further information from the Carabineros Police itself, who filed the complaint.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that under article 13 of the American Convention, speech on matters of public interest receives special protection, especially when expresses elements of the identity or denounces situations of violence and structural discrimination.


In particular, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have highlighted the need to guarantee women's right to freedom of expression and access to information as a tool to combat gender-based violence. In this regard, expressions of protest against gender violence by human rights defenders, artists and women's groups, which have expanded because of online protest, have been of great value in raising awareness of the persistence of a problem that prevents women to enjoy their right to a life free of violence.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur has also insisted on the need to avoid using vague or ambiguous legal provisions that seek to criminalize expressions that, although may be offensive, shocking or unpleasant to State officials or to any segment of the population, are matters of public interest that should not be criminalized in a democratic society.


On the other hand, the Office of the Special Rapporteur highlights that speech that incites violence against any person or State officials is not protected by freedom of expression; however, artistic expressions or protests must be analyzed in their context and require that the speech in question be a credible, real and imminent calling to violence.


In its recent report on Women Journalists, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recalled, "the right to freedom of expression is key in the redress by vulnerable groups of the balance of power among the components of society. Further, this right is useful in promoting intercultural understanding and tolerance, deconstructing stereotypes, facilitating the free exchange of ideas, and offering alternative views and counterpoints."


The Office of the Special Rapporteur draws attention to the point that criminal investigations must guarantee impartiality, due process and be performed by personnel trained in matters of discrimination and stereotypes that affect women, rooted in society.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.