November 15, 2002
Su Excelencia Ricardo Lagos Escobar
Presidente de la República de Chile
Palacio de la Moneda
Por facsímil: + 56-2-690-4020
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about a recent Chilean court decision upholding the charges of “disrespect” (desacato) against television commentator Eduardo Yáñez, a regular panelist on Chilevisión’s debate show “El Termómetro.”
In January 2002, Yáñez was accused of insulting the Supreme Court of Justice during a panel discussion, in which he described the country’s judiciary as “immoral, cowardly, and corrupt” for not providing compensation to a woman who, as it was revealed during the broadcast, had been imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. Yáñez felt that the woman deserved an apology from the courts for the damage she had suffered.
On January 15, after the Supreme Court accused Yáñez of “disrespect,” Judge Juan Manuel Muñoz Pardo ordered the police to detain the commentator. Yáñez spent a night in the Capuchinos detention center in the capital, Santiago, and was freed on bail but has not been allowed to leave the country without official permission.
Yáñez, who is also a businessman and environmental activist, appealed the decision before a higher court, but the accusation was upheld on October 29. He is considering appealing the verdict to the Supreme Court. If sentenced, Yáñez could face up to five years in jail and a fine of 15,000,000 Chilean pesos (US$21,000), according to Article 263 of Chile’s Penal Code.
CPJ commends the Chilean government’s pledge to reform the onerous “disrespect” provisions and applauds Your Excellency’s decision to give urgent attention to new legislation that will conform Chile’s press laws to international standards. And also we call on you to do even more for Chilean press freedom by publicly condemning this prosecution and using it as a catalyst to speed up legislative efforts to eliminate criminal defamation laws.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.