Gallery of Absurd Press Laws and Rulings

Research by Edith Tsouri. Illustrations by Béatrice Coron.

  • In Zimbabwe, journalists can be charged with “publishing materials likely to cause alarm and despondency” under the draconian Law and Order Maintenance Act.

  • The Mozambican Press Law stipulates that in cases of defamation of the president, “truth is not a defense.”

  • In Ethiopia in August 1999, Bizunish Debebe, publisher of the weeky independent Zegabi, was sentenced to one year in prison for failing to publish the name of her newspaper’s deputy editor.

  • In Cuba in 1999, journalist Jesús Joel Díaz Hernandéz was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of “dangerousness.”
  • In Burma, it is a crime to listen to shortwave foreign radio broadcasts and to use a fax machine.

  • Offenses punishable by death in the Democratic Republic of the Congo include “insulting the army” and “demoralizing the nation.” Article 78 of the 1996 Press Law explicitly requires the media to back the government’s war efforts.

  • A draft of a new Costa Rican Penal Code introduces the novel concept of “subliminal defamation,” a category that would grant dangerous interpretive latitude to local judges.

  • In Brazil in October 2000, a local judge in Acre State banned local press coverage of municipal elections on the grounds that it would constitute political propaganda.

  • Journalists in Uzbekistan are legally forbidden to report on the discovery of new diseases.

  • The North Korean government can put its citizens to death for listening to foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications.

  • In Angola, any journalist who “slanders, discredits or insults the memory of the dead can be jailed and/or fined.”