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Costa Rica9 May 2006

Supreme court upholds prison terms for defamation and insult

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about a Costa Rican supreme court decision on 3 May rejecting a newspaper lawyer’s petition for article 7 of the press law to be struck down as unconstitutional. The article provides for prison sentences for those who use the media to defame or insult.

“We call on the government to reconsider the press law and to begin a debate on the subject with the media and journalists’ associations,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In view of the controversy about the court’s decision to uphold article 7, which seriously limits journalists’ freedom of expression, parliament must now be involved.”

First adopted 104 years ago, the article provides for sentences of between one and 120 days in prison for those who defame or insult in newspaper columns, and for the editors that publish them.

The petition against the article was filed on 24 February 2004 by Carlos Serrano, the legal representative of the group that owns the daily newspaper Extra, after three of its journalists were convicted under the article. He said its penalties were much too severe compared with the penalties under the criminal code for an attack on a person’s honour, which are limited to fines.

Among the supreme court ruling’s many critics is Raúl Silesky of the Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (Press and Free Expression Institute), who said upholding article 7 of the press law would “foster self-censorship and undermine Costa Rican democracy.”

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