Press freedom groups ‘concerned’ by alleged spying on Costa Rican journalists

January 21, 2014

Several national and international press freedom groups have criticized alleged spying on Costa Rican journalists by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).

On Tuesday, the Inter American Press Association condemned the phone-records tracing by the OIJ.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the press freedom group’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, condemned the apparent snooping and said it threw into question Costa Rica’s respect for press freedom.

“This is a flagrant violation of freedom of information” which “has as its main objective intimidating news sources,” said Paolillo, the editor of the weekly Búsqueda in Montevideo, Uruguay, according to a statement from IAPA.

Reporters Without Borders also issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the spying:

“Such activities violate the confidentiality of the news media’s sources, which is the bedrock of journalism. They jeopardize the safety and work of the journalists concerned and, beyond that, the ability of the press to perform its watchdog role.”

Monday morning, Diario Extra revealed that the OIJ had intercepted the phone records of its journalists and the owner of the media company Grupo Extra over  a 10-month period as part of an investigation to identify a leak inside the judicial branch.

“Costa Rica has a double standard in freedom of expression and human rights,” Hermez González Álvarez, president of the Foundation for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, told The Tico Times on Monday.

“Freedom of expression is in mourning in Costa Rica,” he added.

González, who plans to file a lawsuit with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, in solidarity with Diario Extra’s injunction, asked media outlets to put a black ribbon on their homepages to show their support for the newspaper.

The Costa Rican Journalists’ Association (COLPER) released a statement expressing its support for the protection of confidential sources, citing the Office of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

Confidentiality is an essential element of journalists’ work and of the role that they play in society of reporting about matters of public interest,” the IACHR statement read, originally in response to the U.S. Justice Department’s request for phone records from The Associated Press.

Iary Gómez, general director of Grupo Extra, couched the events within a wider trend toward controlling information in Costa Rica during the press conference Monday.

In 2013, demonstrators in San José protested a controversial Information Crimes Bill known as the “gag law,” which concerned COLPER and other press freedom groups because of its broad language regarding jail sentences for individuals – including journalists – in possession of “secret political information.”

Lawmakers removed the article dealing with secret information after a journalist challenged it in the Sala IV.

The newspaper’s complaints about spying by OIJ and the Prosecutor’s Office do not extend to the executive branch.

Costa Rica hosted the UNESCO World Press Freedom day on May 3, 2013. The small republic is often lauded for its strong tradition of press freedom.

In 2013, Reporters Without Borders ranked Costa Rica 18th in the world for press freedom, the second highest in Latin America and the Caribbean after Jamaica (13).

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