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Chile

Area: 756,945 sq. km.
Population: 15,402,000
Language: Spanish
Type of state: republic
Head of state: Ricardo Lagos Escobar


Chile - 2003 Annual Report

Despite some progress, Chilean laws still included provisions harmful to press freedom. A draft law proposed by the president would decriminalise the offence of "insults."

The repeal in 2001 of the most repressive aspects of the internal state security law did not end attacks on press freedom by application of other parts of it. Two journalists were prosecuted in 2002 for violating the confidentiality of preliminary legal investigations and were facing prison sentences.
Although it was not a press case, the 18-month jail term demanded for businessman Eduardo Yañez for "insults" after remarks he made on TV about inefficiency in the legal system was worrying. The offence of "insults" against politicians, government officials and military officers was recognised by the criminal and military justice codes and could also apply to journalists. A bill to abolish it was sent to parliament in early September by President Ricardo Lagos.
Its supporters hoped it would not take as long to approve as the eight years it took for a measure abolishing prison terms for defamation of senior government officials. The Journalists for Freedom of Expression organisation, set up in September, began to campaign for the president’s bill.
Members of the chamber of deputies tried to impose restrictions on parliamentary journalists during the year, showing that legislators remained sensitive to media criticism.

New information on a journalist killed before 2002
Judge Guzman Tapia, in charge of investigating the September 1973 death of US journalist Charles Horman, carried out a reconstitution of the crime at the national stadium on 14 May 2002 in the presence of a key witness, Adam Schesch, a US citizen who had been at the stadium at the same time as Horman when it was used as a prison camp and torture centre after the 1973 military coup. A second reconstitution was done the next day with Chilean former political prisoners.
The supreme court accepted an argument of senility on 1 July as grounds for closing the case against 86-year-old former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet for being responsible for the kidnapping and executing of 75 political prisoners by a military commando in September 1973.
The decision could also put an end to the enquiry into Horman’s death, according to lawyers for Horman’s widow Joyce, who filed a complaint in December 2000 against Pinochet and 11 other army officers. After the supreme court decision, the widow said she would take the case to US courts and to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Horman was reportedly arrested and interrogated on 18 September 1973 and executed the next day on the orders of a top Chilean intelligence official. His body was dumped in the street to make it look as if he had been killed in a shootout with the army. His case inspired the director Costa Gavras to make the film "Missing."

Two journalists arrested
Spanish journalist Marc Serra i Torrent, who worked for the magazine Resumen Latinoamericano and the Catalan newspaper Illacrua, was twice briefly arrested on 1 March 2002 while he was covering the repression of a demonstration by Indians against the building of a hydro-electric dam in the Bio Bio area, 450 kms south of Santiago. A week later, he was refused a renewal of his visa.
Giglia Vaccani, of the daily paper Las Últimas Noticias, was arrested on 14 October on the orders of a Santiago court for violating the confidentiality of a preliminary legal investigation into a drug trafficking case. In October 2000, she had written a story about drug-trafficking in Santiago. She was conditionally released two days later and banned from leaving the country. She faced five years in prison.

Four journalists physically attacked
Jessica Ossandón, of Radio Agricultura, Cristián Montecinos, of Radio Cooperativa, Luis Arnés, of the weekly Punto Final, and Jaime Huerta, of the TV station La Red, were attacked on 8 August 2002 by thugs while covering a student demonstration in Santiago. Other journalists were robbed at knife-point. Student leaders said those responsible were "delinquents" who had infiltrated the demonstration.

Pressure and obstruction
The State Defence Council (CDE) appealed on 18 January 2002 against the 13 December 2001 decision to release journalist Paula Afani, who the CDE was prosecuting for having violated the confidentiality of a preliminary legal investigation in stories in the daily papers La Tercera and La Hora in June 1998 about drug trafficking and money-laundering. The CDE wanted to know how she got her information. Afani risked five years in prison.
The chamber of deputies adopted an internal rule on 16 July that journalists would have to wait 15 days for their accreditation request to be processed. They would also have to present a letter signed by their employer specifying how long the accreditation was required for what they were going to write about. Access to parts of the building, notably the cafeteria, were banned. Journalists had recently reported that a bill had been rejected because several deputies were in the cafeteria while the vote was taking place. The measures were watered down on 31 July so the restrictions would only apply to temporarily accredited journalists.
About 80 per cent of copies of the weekly paper La Nación Domingo were bought up on 25 August by employees of businessman Nicolas Ibañez Scott because the issue contained a report that his wife had filed a suit against him for ill-treatment. Ibañez Scott is owner of a large chain of stores known for its strict rules of behaviour for its employees.



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see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report