According to a report released on Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, all but one nation in the Americas have criminal defamation laws that can be used against journalists to suppress freedom of expression.
“Two-thirds of the countries in North, Central and South America routinely use such laws to silence dissent and keep information from their citizens” the report said and added that only Jamaica has entirely repealed laws that would permit journalists to be prosecuted for their reporting.
“Jamaica from 2011 to 2013 repealed its laws that criminalised libel and amended constitutional provisions regarding freedom of expression.”
The report was prepared by the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton for CPJ and the Thomson Reuters Foundation which runs Trust Law, a global pro bono legal program that connects law firms with non-governmental organisations and social enterprises seeking social and environmental change.
"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," CPJ's Carlos Lauria and Sara Rafsky wrote in the report.
"Even if infrequently applied, the continuing existence of these laws represents a lurking danger to free expression.”
According to the report, laws that can be used against journalists include defamation, libel, calumny, or making false charges, and "desacato" offenses which refer to insulting or offending the state or state officials.
"Even where such laws are not typically enforced, their very existence has a "chilling effect" on the spread of information," the report said.
“Criminal defamation laws have resulted in imprisonment in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.”
The report revealed that Mexico and the United States do not have criminal defamation laws at the federal level, but do at the state level.
While there is a trend towards the abolition of criminal defamation laws in the United States and Mexico, there are no such trends in Central America, the Caribbean or South America.