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Legislative, administrative and tax measures choke expression

Business owners and public officials are finding new ways to silence inconvenient information without the need for violence. The number of legal and administrative actions taken to frustrate journalism and activism is on the rise: more than 60 cases of using legal frameworks against freedom of expression were documented in 2018, 18 of which were in Venezuela.[1]

More than a dozen countries in the Americas still have criminal provisions for crimes of defamation, insult, and slander, which are among the easiest laws to leverage against a journalist or communicator.[2] It is also common to use anti-terror legislation and contempt of court provisions against journalists, particularly in Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and Venezuela.[3] These laws are often sufficiently broad and ambiguous to allow cases to be pursued that have enough legal grounds to cause huge loss of time and resources, frustrating journalistic work.

Many outlets are under economic pressure, meaning that legal costs or criminal fines could drive them to bankruptcy or closure. This precarious situation is enough to scare communicators into self-censorship – the most insidious and hard-to-measure form of silence.

Bolivia (2nd quartile) imposed new tax schemes that could force the closure of various media outlets.[4]

Strangely, Colombia  – a country with one of the most dramatic declines – tackled this issue. The Attorney General’s office announced it would appoint specific individuals to identify and intervene in criminal proceedings that might restrict press freedom or the rights of journalists – an initiative that would seek to ‘put a red light on judicial harassment’.[5]

Venezuela’s Tulio Álvarez, in an emblematic case, was sentenced to two years in prison for an opinion column that touched on local corruption. The case was taken to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the hope that the Court would rule this a violation of freedom of expression and curb this disturbing trend.[6]

 

[1] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[2] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[3] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[4] IFEX, Temen cierre de medios por imposiciones del gobierno, 30 January 2018, available at https://www.ifex.org/bolivia/2018/01/30/temen-cierre-de-medios/es/

[5] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p196, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[6] IFEX, IFEX-ALC submits Amicus Brief to Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case of Tulio Álvarez v. Venezuela, 14 January 2019, available at https://ifex.org/ifex-alc-submits-amicus-brief-to-inter-american-court-of-human-rights-in-case-of-tulio-alvarez-v-venezuela/

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