The Committee to Protect Journalists Strongly Condemns the Arrest and Indictments of Bartolo Ortíz and Carlos Orellana

June 17,1999
His Excellency Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
President of the Republic of Chile
Palacio de la Moneda
Santiago, CHILE

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly condemn the arrest and indictment of Bartolo Ortíz, CEO of Planeta Publishing Company, and Carlos Orellana, chief editor of Planeta. Ortíz and Orellana face prosecution under Chile’s State Security Law for publishing El libro negro de la justicia chilena. (The Black Book of Chilean Justice), by journalist Alejandra Matus.

In a letter sent to you on April 22, 1999, we strongly condemned the prosecution of Alejandra Matus and the confiscation of her book. As is well-known, Supreme Court Judge Servando Jordán filed a suit before the Santiago Appeals Court invoking Article 6b of the State Security Law, which makes it a crime against public order to insult high authorities. On April 14, Appeals Court Judge Rafael Huerta initiated a prosecution against Matus, and ordered the seizure of the entire press run of the book. Judge Huerta issued an arrest warrant for Ortiz and Orellana on June 16, 1999. Although Huerta set a bail bond for their release, the two publishers spent the night in jail waiting for the Appeals Court to authorize the bond set by the judge.

As we stated in our previous letter, CPJ considers these actions a grave attack on press freedom. They violate Article 19 (12) of Chile’s Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to express opinions and to inform, and which prohibits prior censorship. CPJ believes that freedom of expression as guaranteed by Chile’s Constitution should take precedence over the State Security Law.

In addition, the State Security Law directly contravenes Article 19 (2) of Chile’s constitution, which states that there are no privileged persons or groups in Chile. CPJ is deeply committed to support the work of journalists who report on abuse of power and corruption in an attempt to make democratic governments more accountable to their citizens. Chile’s State Security Law hinders the development of a suitable environment for a free, responsible and highly ethical press.

Article 19 (4) of the Chilean Constitution guarantees the right to one’s personal integrity. We strongly believe that freedom of expression should come with sound legal tools to defend one’s reputation. The State Security Law does little service to most Chileans as it only protects public authorities. We believe Justice Jordan, as well as any other Chilean who feels that he or she has been defamed by the press, should have access to civil remedies that are compliance with Article 19 (4).

The arrest of the two publishers also violated Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. As you will recall, this is not the first time the State Security Law has been used to justify the confiscation of a book.. In Martorell v. Chile (Case 11.230), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held that Chile’s Supreme Court’s 1993 decision banning Francisco Martorell’s book Diplomatic Impunity constituted unwarranted censorship, in violation of Article 13.

CPJ believes that journalists should have absolute liberty to report and publish books on government investigations, particularly those in which public officials are alleged to be involved in wrongdoing. An informed and robust public debate will inevitably expose government officials to caustic criticism. By making criticism of public officials a crime against the state, the State Security Law has a chilling effect on press freedom in Chile and constitutes a blemish on Chile’s democratic development. We believe you concur with our views.

We therefore request that you openly state your position on freedom of expression and on the articles of the State Security Law that currently make criticism of authorities a crime and permit the seizure of publications. We believe such a law is a powerful detriment to Chile’s democratic consolidation and believe the international community should learn of your government’s position on that matter and of your immediate plans to further strengthen the exercise the freedom of expression in Chile and to see that Article 19 (2) effectively guarantees Chilean journalists the right to report on the actions and possible wrongdoing of high government officials.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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>His Excellency Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
President of the Republic of Chile
Palacio de la Moneda
Santiago, CHILE