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All but one country in Americas criminalize defamation

CPJ releases comparative study of criminal defamation laws in the Americas

Lima, Peru, March 2, 2016--An alarming resurgence in the use of outdated criminal defamation provisions to target critical journalists across Latin America represents a danger to freedom of expression in the region, according to a new report released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists and prepared for CPJ by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The report found that 32 out of 33 countries in the Americas penalize defamation with criminal laws that are invoked to punish dissent and which create a chilling effect on the press. Jamaica is the only country in the region to have entirely repealed criminal defamation provisions.

"Despite the emerging consensus that criminal defamation laws violate international freedom of expression standards, the continued use of such provisions has deterred the aggressive reporting necessary for robust debate in a free and open society," wrote Carlos Lauría, CPJ's program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas, in the report's introduction.

International human rights instruments and a growing body of international legal opinion clearly state that defamation laws can have a chilling effect on speech by hampering the right to freedom of expression and the right to be informed.

The report found that several countries have made progress in repealing defamation laws. For example, Mexico has decriminalized defamation at the federal level and Argentina has eliminated libel and slander laws in matters of public interest, according to the report.

Lauría presented the report in Peru's capital, Lima, today during a panel discussion moderated by Juan Bellocq, legal manager with Trust Law Thomson Reuters Foundation. The participants included Catalina Botero Marino, a former OAS special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Roberto Pereira, a Peruvian constitutional lawyer and expert on freedom of expression issues with Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), and José Leandro Reaño, a partner in the law firm Rodrigo, Elias & Medrano. The event was co-sponsored by IPYS.

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