Debevoise and the Committee to Protect Journalists Release Report on Resurgence of Outdated Criminal Defamation Provisions That Target Journalists

17 March 2016

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, released a report prepared for them by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP on an alarming resurgence in the use of outdated criminal defamation provisions that target critical journalists across Latin America.

The report found that 32 out of 33 countries in the Americas penalize defamation with criminal laws that are invoked to punish dissent and create a chilling effect on the press. Jamaica is the only country in the region to have entirely repealed criminal defamation provisions.

CPJ has closely followed the state of criminal defamation laws in the region for over a decade. In 2000, CPJ began a campaign to eliminate these laws in the Americas. These efforts were widely successful and helped shape an emerging international consensus, including within the Inter-American system, that criminal defamation violates international freedom of expression standards and led to the decriminalization of many aspects of defamation in several countries.

In the last few years, however, CPJ, with assistance from Debevoise, has documented a troubling resurgence of the use of these outdated provisions to target critical journalists. It has become clear that, even if infrequently applied, the continuing existence of these laws represents a lurking danger to free expression. To better analyze the current situation, CPJ and Debevoise partnered with the Thomson Reuters Foundation to document the extent and nature of criminal defamation in the region.

The report found that several countries have made progress in repealing defamation laws. For example, Mexico has decriminalized defamation at the federal level and Argentina has eliminated libel and slander laws in matters of public interest, according to the report.

The Debevoise team who worked on the report included associate Thomas H. Norgaard and partners Jeremy Feigelson and Natalie L. Reid.

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