Freedom of Expression

Press Release R134/11








Washington D.C., December 27, 2011− The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the criminal conviction to three months in prison against the director of Diario Hoy, Jaime Mantilla Anderson, issued in Ecuador on December 21 by the Tenth Criminal Court of Pichincha.


According to the information received, the case arose out of a series of reports published in Diario Hoy in September and October of 2009 regarding the current Chairman of the Board of the Central Bank, Pedro Delgado, who sued the journalist. The reports questioned, among other things, the alleged power of Delgado in making important economic decisions. The sentence was issued after the director of Diario Hoy had refused to give the names of the journalists who had written said articles. In the trial, the Judicial Police of Pichincha were ordered to carry out the "immediate localization and capture" of Mantilla, and to transfer him to a prison in Quito. The decision did not establish the payment of damages because the complaint did not request them. According to the information received, after the sentence had been issued, Delgado forgave the journalist and desisted from continuing proceedings. Mantilla expressed his intention to challenge the sentence given that, in his opinion, his right to freedom of expression has been violated.


The existence and application of laws that criminalize expressions offensive to public officials, or desacato laws, in all of their forms, are contrary to inter-American standards in the area of freedom of expression. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based on the American Convention on Human Rights, established more than a decade ago that the use of the criminal law to sanction expressions about public officials violates article 13 of the American Convention, which protects freedom of expression. Such sanctions are unnecessary, disproportionate, and cannot be justified by any imperative social interest; they also constitute a form of indirect censorship given their intimidating and chilling effect on the discussion of matters in the public interest.



Principle 11 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression maintains that "Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as ‘desacato laws,’ restrict freedom of expression and the right to information." Also, Principle 10 of this Declaration establishes that "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."


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