Attacks on the Press 2002: Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic’s media did not face significant restrictions in 2002 under President Hipólito Mejía. However, a bill designed to bring the country’s press laws up to international standards and improve access to information stalled again in the Senate.

The measure, which would amend the 1962 Law of Expression and Dissemination of Thought, was reintroduced in the Chamber of Deputies in late February and approved in March. President Mejía had first submitted the bill in September 2000, and the Senate passed it in July 2001, but the deadline for consideration in the Chamber of Deputies expired. In 2002, however, the measure originated in the Chamber of Deputies, which approved the legislation and passed it to the Senate for consideration. By year’s end, that chamber had not yet voted on the measure, which means the bill might have to be resubmitted in 2003.

The bill addresses the right to free expression guaranteed under Article 8 of the Dominican Constitution. Local press organizations, newspaper executives, and legal experts proposed the new bill, which outlines the conditions under which access to state-held information should be granted. The bill does not, however, decriminalize defamation, which is punishable by fines and up to six months in prison.

In April, the Dominican press reported that the Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas (Dominican Association of Journalists, or CDP) was drafting a bill to reform Law 10-91, which authorized the group’s foundation. At the time, CDP president Oscar López Reyes was quoted by the daily Hoy as saying that the CDP’s proposed bill does not require journalists to register with the CDP to be able to practice journalism in the country. However, the measure does force journalists to have a university degree in journalism. (In a 1985 decision, the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that such mandatory licensing laws violate the American Convention on Human Rights.)

In November, an appeals court annulled the sentences of three men who were convicted in 2000 of the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martínez Howley, on the grounds that procedural errors had been committed during their trial. The appeals court ordered an immediate retrial of the defendants. In August 2000, a judge sentenced retired air force general Joaquín Pou Castro and two accomplices to 30 years in prison and ordered them to pay a 5 million peso (US$300,000) fine for Martínez’s murder. According to Martínez’s family and friends, the journalist was killed because his reporting had angered then president Joaquín Balaguer. Balaguer, who was subpoenaed in 2000 but refused to testify because of his health, died in July 2002.

ýeanwhile, investigations into the May 1994 disappearance of columnist and academic Narciso González remained stalled at year’s end. González, a harsh critic of the Dominican government and the military, “disappeared” after he publicly criticized the tainted elections that brought Balaguer to power in 1992.