Court bans broadcast of news program

New York, July 29, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns last week’s decision by a Chilean court temporarily barring a television station from airing a program about a high-profile murder case.

On Wednesday, July 23, a panel of judges of the Santiago Court of Appeals, in Chile’s capital, ordered Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN) not to air an episode of the documentary series “Enigma” scheduled for broadcast that day. The program investigates and re-creates the circumstances surrounding the murder of Santiago lawyer Patricio Torres Reyes, who was stabbed to death and burned by two prostitutes after a sexual encounter in his office on December 17, 1999.

The case made headlines in the Chilean press, and the two prostitutes, sisters Nancy and Marcela Imil, were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences. TVN’s lawyer, Juan Ignacio Correa Amunátegui, told CPJ that the research conducted by “Enigma’s” investigative team suggests that one of the women arrested for the killing, Marcela Imil, was wrongfully convicted.

On Tuesday, July 22, the murdered lawyer’s widow, Eugenia Hevia, requested that the Santiago Court of Appeals bar the program, arguing that it violated her and her children’s constitutional right to honor and privacy. Heiva maintained that the broadcast of the television program would “cause unwarranted damage and discredit to the family.”

TVN’s lawyer told CPJ that “the case constitutes a clear case of prior censorship. The court did not view the episode before barring the television program, and there is nothing offensive in its content,” he added. The court will soon hear arguments from TVN’s legal team before deciding whether the program will be aired.

The American Convention on Human Rights, which Chile ratified in 1990, clearly states that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression “shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability.” The decision also violates Article 19 (12) of the Chilean Constitution.

“Prior censorship violates international press freedom standards,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “We call on the Chilean judiciary to make the right decision in its final ruling and allow Televisión Nacional de Chile to show the program.”