Court refuses to consider lifting ban on controversial Chilean book

New York, August 6, 2001—The Santiago Appeals Court refused to consider journalist Alejandra Matus’ petition to authorize the circulation of The Black Book of Chilean Justice, her muckraking exposé of the Chilean judiciary that was banned more than two years ago.

The Chilean judiciary seems unwilling to lift the ban even though a new press law, signed in May, repealed the infamous articles of the State Security Law under which Matus was charged with criminal defamation and The Black Book was outlawed. (See CPJ’s May 25, 2001, alert about the law.)

“It seems as if some members of the Chilean judiciary are hanging on to any excuse to continue this unjustified case against Alejandra Matus,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Clearly, the case should be dismissed in its entirety and the ban on The Black Book of Chilean Justice lifted.”

Matus’ case began on April 14, 1999, when Santiago Appeals Court judge Rafael Huerta banned her book in response to a suit filed by Supreme Court justice Servando Jordán under Article 6b of the State Security Law, which made it a crime against public order to insult high officials.

After Judge Huerta ordered the seizure of the book’s entire print run, Matus flew to Argentina to avoid imprisonment. Six months later, the United States granted Matus political asylum. (See CPJ’s March 23, 2001, alert about the case.)

On June 2, about two weeks after the new press law was passed, the journalist’s brother and lawyer, Jean Pierre Matus, requested that the court close the case, drop the detention order against Matus, lift the ban on her book, and release the impounded copies of it.

The Matuses told CPJ that on June 29, Santiago Appeals Court judge Rubén Ballesteros dismissed the parts of the case stemming from the State Security Law. However, he did not overturn other charges, including those based on the Law on Publicity Abuses, even though the May press law repealed that statute entirely.

In the same June 29 decision, Judge Ballesteros upheld the detention order and book-ban, pending possible challenges to his ruling dismissing charges stemming from the State Security Law.

The next day, Jean Pierre filed a writ asking the Santiago Appeals Court to lift the detention order. The court unanimously ruled in Matus’ favor, enabling her to return to Chile.

When Matus arrived on July 14, she and her brother filed another writ requesting that the Appeals Court lift the ban on her book. On July 25, the court declared the writ inadmissible.

Jean Pierre filed a complaint against that decision with the Supreme Court on July 31.

Meanwhile, Justice Jordán, who brought the original 1999 defamation case against Matus, filed an appeal on June 30 against the partial dismissal of the case. Jean Pierre then filed an appeal on July 25 urging the judge to dismiss the case entirely. The court is expected to rule on both appeals within five months.