Bolivian journalists declare an ‘emergency’ regarding parts of new Penal Code that criminalize defamation

The National Association of Bolivian Journalists (ANPB, for its initials in Spanish) and the Association of Journalists of La Paz (APLP) have declared an “emergency” in rejection of articles of the country’s new Penal Code the entities say could be used against professionals in retaliation for their work.

At the center of the associations’ concerns are Articles 309, 310 and 311 which establish sanctions for the offenses of injuria, calumnia and defamation, and article 246, which regulates punishment for the use of personal data or confidential information of others "in order to affect the image and dignity of the victim."

In a statement released on Jan. 7, the ANPB and APLP expressed their rejection of the first three because of their "ambiguity" and expressed their concern about the "risk of political exploitation" of the latter. The associations affirmed that "they will not allow the articles cited to overlap with the current Press Law, nor that it will violate the freedom of expression of the Bolivian people."

“Freedom of expression is supported by the Political Constitution of the State, in Article 107, and recognizes the Press Law as the norm that regulates the work of journalists through self-regulation through its courts of honor and the National Court of Journalistic Ethics,” ANPB and APLP said.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Gabriela Montaño said that articles 309, 310 and 311 were already contained in the previous Penal Code and that the punishment of anyone found guilty of injuria, calumnia or defamation consisted of apologizing to those offended, according to La Razón. The new Code, Montaño said, aggravates the penalty for these crimes if they are committed through a media outlet, demanding the payment of a fine to the person the judge considers was impaired by the statements.

However, if a person is found to be a repeat offender of the offenses of injuría, calumnia or defamation against the same victim, Article 44 of the new Penal Code provides for imprisonment between one month and one year in the case of a culpable crime, and between six months and three years in the case of intentional crime.

The ANPB and the APLP called on their members to "remain vigilant" and to attend the Extraordinary Congress that will be held on Jan. 26 and 27 in Cochabamba, whose main theme will be the "analysis of the new Code of the Penal System and its impact on the Press Law and freedom of expression.”

The new Penal Code, promulgated by Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Pinera in December, has faced opposition from various civil groups and professional sectors. Media associations and journalists already protested in September that Article 200, which sanctions professional misconduct, could mean the criminalization of journalists. After a few weeks of mobilization, Bolivian congress members finally excluded communications professionals from Article 200 and added Article 195, which penalizes crimes against freedom of expression and the press.

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.