Mexico - States urged to bring laws into line after federal parliament decriminalizes press offences



    MONTREAL, March 8 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders today hailed
the decriminalization of "defamation" and "insult" that was passed by the
federal senate on 6 March and was already approved by the chamber of deputies
on 18 April of last year. However, these offences are still crimes in most
Mexican states, which should now conform to the federal legislation, the
organisation said.
    "This legislation makes Mexico the seventh Latin American country to
decriminalize press offences," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is a
significant gesture even if the risks Mexico's journalists face have little to
do with the courts. We hope the government will lose no time in promulgating
the new legislation. It now falls to the state assemblies to decriminalize
press offences as required by the primacy of federal over local law."
    When it unanimously approved the decriminalization of "defamation" and
"insult," the federal senate said it fell to "civil court judges to decide if
persons, journalists and communicators act within or outside the law when they
disseminate information or opinions, by eliminating the possibility of a
prison sentence of any abuse of freedom of expression."
    These "abuses" will henceforth be punished by fines or the award of
damages. "Under no circumstances" are the negative opinions of literary,
artistic, historical, scientific or professional critics to be considered
"attacks on the honour" of a person or institution as long as there is no
"intention to offend," the senate decided.
    In a vote nearly one year ago (see release of 20 April 2006), the federal
chamber of deputies adopted a resolution abolishing "prison sentences for
those who abuse the freedom of expression, leaving open the possibility for
parties to go through the civil courts to sue for the reparation of any moral
damage inflicted."
    Six Latin American countries have already decriminalized press offences:
Honduras, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay and Guatemala. After
Argentina, Mexico is the second country with a federal system to do it. So
far, three of Mexico's states have amended their criminal law in line with the
new federal legislation: Baja California, Jalisco and the Mexico City Federal
District.
    For the time being, the maximum sentences for defamation continue to be:

    
    - one year in prison in the states of Guanajuato and Morelos
    - two years in prison in the states of Campeche, Chihuahua, Hidalgo,
      Nayarit, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosm, Sinaloa, Sonora,
      Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Yucatan and Zacatecas
    - three years in prison in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila,
      Colima, Durango, Guerrero (except for a state official in the exercise
      of his duties), México, Michoacan, Nuevo Lesn and Tabasco
    - four years in prison in the states of Baja California Sur, Puebla and
      Veracruz
    - five years in prison in the state of Oaxaca
    - nine years in prison and the equivalent of nine times the minimum wage
      in the state of Chiapas.
    

    Last April, the federal chamber of deputies also approved another
resolution, one already passed by the senate, guaranteeing certain professions
including journalists the right to professional confidentiality. At the moment
when the senate approved the decriminalization of press offences, the lower
house unanimously passed a proposed constitutional amendment on the
fundamental right of access to public information at the federal, state and
local level.
    Sen. Carlos Sotelo Garcma of the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD) immediately submitted a bill to the senate that would add professional
secrecy, the right of journalists to resign on an issue of conscience, the
right of access to public information and the decriminalization of press
offences to the federal constitution.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Canadian office representative,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax:
(514)521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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