Article 19 denounces Colombian court ruling that preserves criminal defamation

By Joseph Vavrus

The Supreme Court of Colombia ruled on May 25 that criminal defamation is constitutional, prompting criticism from freedom of expression advocates, Article 19 reports via IFEX.

According to Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), articles 220 and 221 of the Penal Code allow for fines and prison terms ranging from 16 months to six years for those convicted of libel or slander.

The Court rejected a complaint from the Federation of Latin American and Caribbean Journalists, who argued those provisions restricted freedom of expression in violation of the Colombian constitution and international human rights treaties, Article 19 explains.

“Criminal defamation laws always have a chilling effect on the work of journalists and media, who in response may engage in self-censorship out of fear of prosecution. They should be immediately eliminated from the legislation,” said Article 19 Executive Director Agnes Callamard, in response to the ruling.

Government officials in Latin American often use libel laws to target journalists who report on corruption allegations, as in recent cases in the Dominican RepublicEcuadorBoliviaParaguay, and Brazil.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.