The Colombian House of Representatives is seen in Bogota on June 10, 2019. The body recently passed anti-corruption legislation that threatens press freedom. (AFP/Juan Barreto)

Colombian legislature passes anti-corruption bill that threatens press freedom

Miami, December 10, 2021 – Colombian President Iván Duque should veto a portion of the anti-corruption bill recently passed by the country’s legislature that threatens press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 6, the Colombian Chamber of Representatives passed Bill 369, the “Anti-Corruption Bill,” which includes an article that could be used to stifle the press, according to press reports and a statement by the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Article 221A of the bill, which CPJ reviewed, empowers judges to suspend or cancel the legal status of any organization whose members defame or slander any active or former government official.

Under Colombia’s constitution, Duque has 20 days to approve or veto the bill.

“Colombia is headed in the wrong direction: instead of eliminating its existing criminal defamation laws, lawmakers are adding an additional penalty, which could even strip media outlets of their legal status,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “President Iván Duque should not pass the Anti-Corruption Bill until Article 221A, which is a blatant threat to press freedom, is removed.”

FLIP’s coordinator of protection and legal defense for journalists, Raissa Carrillo, told CPJ via messaging app that that article “not only provides public officials with an additional layer of protection against public scrutiny, but it will push the outlets into censoring content to avoid the risk of being legally canceled.”

Article 221A amends Colombia’s penal code, which already criminalizes defamation and slander, by empowering authorities to suspend or cancel the legal status of organizations in cases where the alleged victims are active or former public officials.

“Contrary to the purpose of the bill, [Article 221A] stifles public debate and creates fertile ground for corruption by preventing the press and civil society organizations from fulfilling their role as watchdog in a democratic society,” FLIP said in its statement.

Yesterday, Duque tweeted, “the defense of press freedom is an unquestionable duty” and that “any threat to that principle must be objected.”

CPJ called the Colombian Chamber of Representatives for comment, but no one answered.