TV commentator convicted of “disrespect”

New York, February 5, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by a Chilean judge’s decision to impose a two-months suspended prison sentence on television commentator Eduardo Yáñez.

On Friday January 31, Judge Juan Manuel Muñoz convicted Yáñez, a panelist on Chilevisión’s debate show “El Termómetro,” of “disrespect” under Article 263 of the Penal Code. Yáñez will not be sent to prison but he will be required to appear before the Gendarmerie, the body responsible for prisoners’ custody. In addition, the judge ordered the TV commentator to pay a fine of US$460.

The sentence stemmed from a November 2001 episode of “El Termómetro” in which Yáñez described the Chilean judiciary as “immoral, cowardly, and corrupt” for not providing compensation to a woman who had been imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. The Chilean Supreme Court then filed a criminal complaint accusing Yáñez of disrespect.

Yáñez, who is also a businessman and environmental activist, told CPJ that the decision set a bad precedent for freedom of expression in Chile. He will appeal the decision before the Court of Appeals in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

According to local press reports, Judge Juan Manuel Muñoz ruled that Yáñez was guilty of “disrespect” for issuing “degrading and dishonoring expressions intended to provoke disregard or contempt of a public institution.”