Freedom of Expression

Press Release 13/99

The 104th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was held from September 21 to October 8, 1999. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago A. Canton, assisted and advised the Commission in the hearings and meetings it granted.

The Rapporteur participated in the meeting between the IACHR and President Hugo Chávez Frías. On that occasion, the president expressed his intention to support and observe freedom of expression in his country. In that regard, Dr. Santiago A. Canton states his desire that the draft Constitution of Venezuela, currently being prepared, will constitute a significant advance in the protection of freedom of expression. On this topic in particular, the Office of the Rapporteur expresses concern regarding the proposal to include the right to truthful information in the draft Constitution of Venezuela. The Office of the Rapporteur will be following the evolution of the draft Constitution, which, if approved with this proposal, would be a serious assault on the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Rapporteur also met with a delegation from the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), headed by its President Jorge Fascetto, from the newspaper El Día of La Plata, Argentina. The IAPA outlined the situation of the press in the Hemisphere and presented to the Commission the cases of four journalists (two from Colombia and two from Brazil) who had been assassinated. At the close of the meeting, the IAPA expressed its agreement with the activities being conducted by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

The IACHR and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression also received Dr. Jorge Salazar, Director of the Institute for Press and Society of Peru. At that meeting, details were provided on the difficult situation the independent press faces in Peru. Particular mention was made of the harassment and constant death threats against journalists who are critical of the authorities. Dr. Salazar said that he himself had recently been the victim of such a threat. He also mentioned the use of indirect mechanisms to suppress freedom of expression, such as the publication of fliers to discredit journalists and media executives who oppose the government. Some prominent independent journalists affirm that those publications originate in the State Intelligence Services. The use of other indirect forms of repression was also underscored, such as the tax authorities exerting pressure on the media. The closing of the opposition newspaper Referéndum last October 4 was one example cited in that regard. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates its concern regarding the serious circumstances undermining freedom of expression in Peru.

The IACHR and the Rapporteur received updated information on the sentencing in Cuba of four members of the "Internal Dissidents Working Group," Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Félix Bonne Carcasés, René Gómez Manzano, and Vladimir Roca Antúnez. They were prosecuted and sentenced for sedition for publishing a manifesto entitled La Patria es de Todos [The Fatherland belongs to Us All], which criticizes the views of the V Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). Dr. Santiago A. Canton reiterates his rejection of the judgments of the Cuban courts and his condemnation of the absence of the right to free expression in Cuba.

Dr. Canton also participated in the meeting with Chilean journalist Alejandra Matus, whose right to freedom of expression was seriously infringed upon when the distribution and sale of her book El Libro Negro de la Justicia Chilena [The Black Book of Chilean Justice] were prohibited. As the Office of the Rapporteur previously stated, this case of prior censorship is a serious violation of freedom of expression and is explicitly prohibited in Article 13 of the American Convention.

Finally, Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky participated in a hearing as a petitioner in a case pending before the Commission on violations of freedom of expression in Argentina. The journalist presented himself as a victim in one of the events denounced and as a petitioner in the others. The Office of the Rapporteur took part in the friendly settlement procedure between the Argentine government and the journalist, Horacio Verbitsky.

Santiago A. Canton
Special Rapporteur for Freedom
of Expression
Washington, D.C.
October 12, 1999