Critics Are Not Criminals - Comparative Study of Criminal Defamation Laws in the Americas

Thu, 10 Mar 2016 20:41 PM
Author: Committee to Protect Journalists, Thomson Reuters Foundation and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
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In a free and open society, the function of journalists and activists is to hold their governments accountable. Criminal defamation and insult laws not only violate international freedom of expression standards but can also severely undermine this role and stifle public debate. Journalists should be able to do their work without fear but are instead vilified and subject to harsh sanctions under these laws.

Despite a growing consensus that criminal defamation laws should be abolished, there has been an alarming resurgence of their use in the Americas. From North America to South America, over two-thirds of the governments in the region routinely use these laws to silence dissent and to deprive citizens of information on matters of public interest. Even in countries where criminal defamation laws are not actively enforced, their existence continues to have a significant impact on the willingness and ability of individuals and media organizations to discuss key issues, posing as a very tangible threat to freedom of expression.

The report surveys the existence and enforcement of criminal defamation laws and other laws criminalizing or restricting speech across 33 countries in the Americas, including their application to growing methods of news dissemination such as the Internet and mobile communications. The report makes a notable contribution to our understanding of the chilling effect these laws can have on freedom of expression in the region, and it highlights best and worst practices that can guide advocacy efforts for legal reform.