Prison penalties for defamation excluded from Dominican Republic draft penal code
IPI Executive Director celebrates changes in letter to Chamber of Deputies
By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean
VIENNA, March 7, 2013 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today warmly congratulated the Justice Committee of the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies for removing prison penalties for defamation and insult from the draft penal code under consideration.
In a letter to the Committee’s president, Demóstenes Martínez Hernández, IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie lauded the move “an important step in strengthening freedoms of the press and of expression in the Dominican Republic.”
IPI – which is currently leading a campaign to abolish criminal defamation in the Caribbean – had previously lobbied for the change in a visit to the Dominican Republic last June and through letters presented to a Justice Committee hearing in Nov. 2012. Martínez indicated in the press that the final draft of the reform bill would be presented to Congress this month.
The draft Penal Code maintains the possibility of criminal fines for defamation, up to ten times the monthly salary of the defendant. Bethel McKenzie, calling the reform of the Penal Code an “historic opportunity,” urging the Committee to consider the complete decriminalisation of defamation which, according to international standards, is best dealt with in civil law suits
The move comes just over a week after three of the country’s most prominent newspaper editors launched a constitutional challenge to the current Penal Code as well as the press law (Law No. 6132), arguing that the criminal defamation provisions contained in the texts promoted self-censorhip in the media.
Two journalists were sentenced to prison in the Dominican Republic for defamation last year, though both verdicts were later overturned on appeal. The country is one of just five in the Caribbean to have applied its criminal defamation laws in the last 15 years.
An IPI delegation will return to the Dominican Republic later this spring to hold a series of journalism workshops and meet with government and media officials on planned reforms to the press law, where journalists still face up to one year in prison for defamation.
If the draft Penal Code is approved, the Dominican Republic will officially be the second country to significantly improve its libel laws after IPI lobbying. Last summer, the Parliament of Grenada voted to abolish criminal libel. In addition, the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have identified defamation reform as a priority, with a bill in the latter country due to be presented in Parliament later this month.