Bolivian court rules insult laws against officials are unconstitutional

The Bolivian Constitutional Court ruled that insult crimes against public officials are unconstitutional, violating citizens' right to freedom of expression, reported the website Prensa Libre. While the decision was dated Sept. 20, the announcement was not made until Tuesday, Oct. 23, by Court president Ruddy Flores, according to the website.

Defined as any person that "slanders, libels or defames a public official in the performance of their duties or because of them," Article 162 of the Penal Code, struck down by the Court, was punishable by one month to two years in prison, according to a statement published on the website Los Tiempos. The sentence could have been more severe if it involved high-level functionaries, like the president or vice-president, added the website.

The ruling, however, did not eliminate all insult laws. The Court reminded public servants that they are not defenseless because other slander, libel and defamation laws remain in effect, reported the website Prensa Latina.

At least 21 public figures from the opposition and citizens have between one and 20 charges against them for criticizing government officials in Bolivia, reported the newspaper La Razón. While the Court's president did not rule on these cases, constitutional scholars believe they will be thrown out following the decision, noted the newspaper.

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.