Press freedom is satisfactory, especially after the arrest at the end of 2003 of those who allegedly ordered the killing of radio journalist Parmenio Medina. Amendments to the press law and an appeal by a convicted journalist to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are still pending.
A September 2003 opinion poll said 75 per cent of journalists asked thought the country’s press legislation needed amending because it protected the reputation of government officials and public figures but not the confidentiality of sources or the right to government data. Articles 149 and 152 of the criminal code say journalists sued for defamation have to provide proof of what they allege and punish publication of insults, which journalists say encourages self-censorship.
The investigation into the 2001 murder of radio journalist Parmenio Medina resulted in the arrest in late December of two suspected organisers of the killing, an important step in the fight against impunity, though the case is going slowly.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ruled in favour of journalist Mauricio Herrera and his paper La Nacion in an appeal against heavy libel damages awarded in November 1999 and the matter is now before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
New information on a journalist killed before 2003
A Catholic priest, Mínor Calvo Aguilar, and businessman Omar Chavez Mora were arrested on 27 December 2003 on suspicion of organising the 7 July 2001 murder of radio journalist Parmenio Medina. The investigating judge said they had paid a Colombian, John Gilberto Gutiérrez Ramírez (already arrested), who had acted as intermediary between them and the actual killers. Five day earlier, police arrested another suspected organiser, Jorge Castillo Sánchez, a Colombian businessman involved in football clubs, who had been named by Gutiérrez Ramírez.
Investigators said five other people had been involved in the murder: Juan Ramón Hernández Pereira, Rándal Eduardo González García, Juan Gabriel Carvajal Angulo, Luis Alberto Jaime Aguirre (a Nicaraguan) and Andrés Chaves Matarrita. The last two have been arrested and Aguirre was jailed for 22 years in late September 2003 for two hold-ups unrelated to the Medina case. Another suspect, César Dionisio Murillo Martínez ("Nicho"), was killed in an armed robbery.
Medina, the well-known presenter of a satirical radio programme, "La Patada" ("The Kick"), on Radio Monumental, had several times reported financial irregularities at the Catholic Church station Radio Maria de Guadalupe, questioning what happened to donations to the radio received by its founder, Calvo Aguilar, and the precise role of Chávez Mora in the station. Both were suspected of theft.
Medina had also reported seeing Calvo Aguilar with a young man in a park frequented by homosexuals. The two suspects, who reportedly tried to buy Medina’s silence before he was killed, face between 20 and 35 years in prison.
Harassment and obstruction
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed in mid-February 2003 to hear an appeal against libel damages awarded on 12 November 1999 against journalist Mauricio Herrera (430,000 colons, or 1,500 euros) and his paper, the daily La Nación (10 million colons, or 34,000 euros). The verdict had also ordered his name to be put on a list of criminals.
Herrera had reported in the paper in 1995 that a Costa Rican diplomat, Félix Przedborski, was involved in corruption. The paper took the case to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in January 2001, which said in a non-binding opinion on 3 February 2003 that Herrera’s right to freedom of expression had been violated (under the American Convention on Human Rights) and called for the conviction to be quashed. The case was then sent to the Court, whose decision will be binding.