International Press Institute continues mission to decriminalize libel in four Caribbean countries

On Thursday, April 19, the International Press Institute (IPI) announced plans to continue its campaign to decriminalize defamation in the Caribbean countries of Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, with missions to each country scheduled this summer.

“Criminalized libel is a relic of colonialism and has no place in a modern, democratic Caribbean,” said Pavol Mudry, Vice Chair of IPI’s executive board, in a statement from the organization. Nevertheless, criminal defamation laws continue to threaten freedom of expression in much of the Caribbean, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

For example, in January 2012, Johnny Alberto Salazar, a Dominican Republic reporter, was sentenced to six months in prison for libel and was fined more than $25,000 for accusing a lawyer of protecting the interests of criminal organizations.

According to IPI, the Caribbean has actively excercised its libel laws over the last 15 years, even as such laws have fallen into disuse in other parts of the world.

In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Colombia have all made encouraging steps against criminal defamation, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Mexico and El Salvador also have worked to decriminalize libel.

Despite the advancements, however, journalists in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama all have faced criminal libel charges recently.