Freedom of Expression

Press Release 51/02


The office of the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expresses  grave concern regarding the desacato contempt proceedings filed against Mr. Eduardo Yáñez in Chile. These proceedings are based on Art. 263 of the Chilean Criminal Code, which defines the crime of contempt toward authority. The existence and use of such legislation goes against the free exercise of freedom of expression as set forth in Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. 

            The information received indicates that on November 28, 2001, Mr. Yáñez appeared as a panelist on Chilevisión’s El Termómetro program. During the broadcast he severely criticized the actions of the Supreme Court of Justice, accusing it of making mistakes in two cases. As a result of Mr. Yáñez’s declarations, the Chilean Supreme Court filed suit for the crime of desacato contempt as described in Art. 263 of the Criminal Code. On January 15, 2002, Mr. Yáñez was charged and arrested. The following day, after a sum of money was handed over, Mr. Yáñez was released on bail; the proceedings are, however, still ongoing. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. 

The rapporteur’s office once again notes that desacato contempt laws are incompatible with Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right of free expression. In addition, such laws violate the 11th principle of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, which reads as follows: “ 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.” 

Similarly, the Inter-American Court has ruled that the protection of free expression must extend not only to favorable information and ideas, but also to those that “offend, shock, or disturb,” because “such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance, and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society.” Consequently, Art. 263 of the Chilean Criminal Code is in conflict with the jurisprudence of the inter-American system, and its use constitutes a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. 

In light of the above, the rapporteur’s office urges the Chilean state to dismiss the contempt proceedings brought against Mr. Eduardo Yáñez. It further recommends that the country should amend its laws that restrict freedom of expression in order to bring them into line with the parameters set down in the American Convention on Human Rights. 

Finally, the rapporteur’s office again cites the provisions of Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights: 

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.”           

Office of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, IACHR
January 16, 2002  
Washington, D.C.