Environmental reporting leads to defamation lawsuit against two Dominican journalists

Two reporters in the Dominican Republic could face three months to one year in prison for allegedly defaming the Canadian textile multinational Gildan Activewear, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French).

The Canadian company sued Robert Vargas, journalist and editor of the website Cuidad Oriental, and Genris García, editor of the website Vigilante Informativo, after they published reports about environmental damage caused by the company in the city of Guerra, Santo Domingo, added RSF.

“Gildan’s judicial offensive is an attempt to censor the media,” RSF said. "The decriminalization of media offences is urgently needed so that journalists in the Dominican Republic can be free to work without fearing imprisonment,” the statement continued.

The case takes place in the midst of a national debate about the reform of the Dominican Criminal Code and Law 6123 on the Expression and Distribution of Thought, which has mobilized different journalistic groups on the island, reported the Center for Investigative Reporting in Guatemala (CERIGUA in Spanish).

These groups have warned about the "backsliding" nature of some of these articles, including fines of up to 9,000 times the minimum wage for reporters who criticize public officials. Journalistic organizations have asked to decriminalize defamation and slander, added CERIGUA.

Last April, the International Press Institute launched a campaign to decriminalize defamation in four Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic. The organization's latest report announced that these countries had pledged to repeal these laws but that there was still more work to do.

This is not the first case of its kind in the Dominican Republic. Last January, reporter Johnny Alberto Salazar was sentenced to six months in prison after he was found guilt of defamation and slander. His sentence was later overturned in an appeal.

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.

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