Court in Dominican Republic declares imprisonment unconstitutional in cases of defamation against government

Media in the Dominican Republic welcomed a ruling from the country's Constitutional Court that declared as unconstitutional a set of articles that imposed prison sentences on media owners and workers found to be responsible for defamation.

The ruling concerned seven of the articles of Law 6132 concerning expression and dissemination of thought, which imposed prison sentences for media owners and media workers that are directly or indirectly responsible for publishing any information considered defamation (including the designation of injuria) against the government and its institutions, reported Dominican newspaper El Día.

This ruling responds to a constitutional complaint against 11 articles mentioned in Law 6132, and against five articles of the Dominican Criminal Code, which was made on Feb. 23, 2013 by the Press and Law Foundation; Miguel Antonio Franjul, director of Listin Diario; Rafael Osvaldo Santana, director of the newspaper El Caribe; and Rafael Molina of the newspaper El Día.

For Namphi Rodríguez, lawyer in the case and president of the Press and Law Foundation, the court's ruling is "enormously important" for democracy to decriminalize defamation and injuria, reported newspaper Listín Diario.

"It is one of the most important decisions of our Constitutional Court, it being a conquest of the journalistic class and Dominican democracy after 50 years of struggle,” Rodriguez said, stressing that the Dominican Republic joins countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Mexico that have eliminated “the burden of prison for freedom of expression.”

The Dominican Society of Newspapers also commented positively on the landmark ruling of the Constitutional Court, saying that it strengthens guarantees and compliance of the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, proclaimed in 2010, honoring international agreements such as the American Convention Human Rights, according to the website of the newspaper El Día.

In its editorial on Feb. 22, the Dominican newspaper Listín Diario said the anullment of seven articles of Law 6132, declared by the State on Dec. 15, 1962, sets an important precedent for "completely dismantling" other unconstitutional provisions that remain in the same law.

For this newspaper, the substance of this decision is the elimination of prison sentences and fines imposed on crimes of speech and the so called “cascade effect” that established a range of responsibilities if fault was found. The law criminalized all actors involved in the news process: from the director of the media outlet, to other executives, to the printer of the information.

Regarding Articles 368, 369, 370, 371 and 372 of the Penal Code, which are still in place and which are also included in the constitutional challenge presented by the journalists in 2013, the media executives believe that they should also be annulled by imposing the same sanctions as were imposed on Law 6132El Caribe reported.

The Dominican Association of Newspapers, in a statement published by the newspaper El Día, said the court's ruling is a significant advance in public freedoms, both for citizens and for the practice of journalism.

However, in its decision, the Court also stated as constitutional the article that imposes a prison sentence when the "defamation is against a particular person," El Día added.

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.