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For Immediate Release
Contact: Suzanne Bilello
(212)465-9344, ext.104

CPJ Hails Historic Verdict in Argentine Libel Case

Judge’s Ruling Against Menem Supports Journalist’s Right to " Fulfill Duty"

New York, N.Y., Dec. 18 --
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today hailed the court decision in Argentina in a libel suit brought by President Carlos Menem against the newspaper Página 12 as an important victory for press freedom. Judge María Laura Garrigos de Rébori said in her Dec. 17 decision in the more than two-year-old libel case that columnist Horacio Verbitsky had only been doing his job as a journalist when he wrote that the president had not been tortured as he claimed during his arrest under the military dictatorship.

The judge also acquitted Ernesto Tiffenberg and Fernando Sokolowicz, editors of Página 12 sued by President Menem, and ordered Menem to pay the costs of the trial. In her verdict she said that freedom of expression meant both the right of the press to inform and the right of society to be informed. “The journalist fulfilled the duty imposed by his job when he said Menem was not telling the truth,” she said in a television interview.

“This is a major victory for the Argentine press at a privotal moment in the country’s evolution as a democratic society,” said William A. Orme, Jr., CPJ’s executive director. “We commend our Argentine colleagues in their principled pursuit of press freedom. This decision is particularly important because the Argentine press, which is held in high esteem by the majority of people, has for years been under legal assault by the Menem government.”

President Menem sued Página 12 in October 1994 for publishing the article by Verbitsky that questioned the veracity of the president’s claims of torture. It was the fourth libel suit initiated by Menem against the paper, which also has been the target of lawsuits by members of the Menem government. CPJ criticized the continued legal harassment of Página 12 in a letter to President Menem in 1994.

A broad range of Argentine journalists, writers, and officials had rallied in support of Página 12, including the Association for the Defense of Independent Journalism, an independent press freedom group formed one year ago to act on behalf of threatened or harassed journalists. Scores of journalists were among the thousands of people who were murdered or disappeared under the military dictatorship in Argentina that ended in 1983.

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