A bill is working its way through the legislative branch of the Dominican Republic that will severely restrict freedom of expression — and by extension — press freedom.
According to the InterAmerican Press Association (SIP in Spanish), the proposed bill is a series of amendments to the criminal code of the DR. One of the changes will make publishing or airing offensive expressions against the President and the Vice President, senators, congressmen, judges, election officials or the attorney general a criminal offense with imprisonment of two to three years and large financial penalties.
Claudio Paolillo, Chair of the SIP Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information said the bill moves libel into the criminal category at a time when the rest of the world is decriminalizing libel.
He added, that if the Dominican Congress continues down this path and just punishing definitely this reform, “set a precedent enormously negative, not only for that country but for the entire region.”
Dominican media are fighting back by pointing out that the proposed changes violate the new Dominican Constitution and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The press association said the legislation is comparable to a government “censorship.”
Ever since the end of the Trujillo and Balaguer dictatorships, the Dominican media have been fiercely defending their right of press freedom. It would be terrible for that country to slide back into the dark days of government controlled media and people afraid to speak out against the nation’s leaders.