San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Press freedom group looks to Costa Rican legislature to repeal 102-year-old law

A New York-based press freedom association is calling on the Costa Rican legislature to eliminate criminal defamation on the heels of a recent Sala III ruling.

Carlos Lauría, Committee to Protect Journalists senior program coordinator for the Americas, said he considered the court´s decision an important step forward, but added that that Costa Rica´s legislature should now “eliminate defamation provisions from its Penal Code.”

A bill to protect journalists from defamation has been circulating in the legislative assembly for years, but has never made it to a final vote. Lauría´s organization said it hopes the court´s decision will be used as a catalyst to bring forth changes in congress.

The cry for new legislation follows a recent Sala III ruling in which judges decided to annul a 50-day prison sentence levied on reporter José Luis Jiménez of the daily Diario Extra who was originally accused of “libel and slander” by the press.

He was accused under a 1902 press law that penalizes journalists for libel with up to 120 days in jail. However, judges challenged the law in their ruling, which was issued on Tuesday, saying there had been an “implied repeal” in 1971 with the criminal code.

In 2004, Jiménez was sued by a female public employee who was accused of misusing government funds.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there´s been a push in recent years to protect journalists from jail sentences in defamation cases. The Argentine congress repealed criminal defamation provisions in the penal code in November of 2009. Shortly before that, in April 2009, Brazil´s Supreme Federal Tribunal annulled the 1967 Press Law, a measure which had imposed severe criminal penalties for libel and slander.

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