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Chile planning to penalise leaks about judicial investigations

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 21 April 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) opposes two proposed legislative amendments in Chile – called “gag laws” by critics – that would penalize anyone leaking information about ongoing judicial investigations to the media.

One of the amendments, which the senate approved by 29 votes to 3 on 5 April, provides for sentences of 61 to 540 days in prison for persons leaking information about any ongoing judicial investigation.

Under the other amendment, which is backed by the government and has also been approved by the senate, journalists could be fined for publishing information about judicial cases that come under the anti-terrorism law. It also provides for jail terms for whistleblowers who leak this information to the media.

The two laws, which could take effect as early as 21 May if approved by the chamber of deputies, are the subject of intense debate in Chile at a time of tension in connection with ongoing judicial investigations into cases of corruption, abuse of authority and illegal campaign funding involving politicians (including associates of President Michelle Bachelet), business leaders and military officers.

“We condemn the manoeuvring by the Chilean executive and legislature in connection with these two measures, which would deal a major blow to the right to information and would constitute a significant backward step for democracy in Chile,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF's Latin America desk. "Chile's deputies must choose transparency by voting against these 'gag laws', which are clearly designed to protect private interests and to conceal information that could compromise the government".

Supreme court president Hugo Dolmetsch has described the proposed amendments as “a return to judicial investigative secrecy” while Claudio Uribe, the president of the National Association of Public Prosecutors, said they would “only help a small number of people – those close to the government and the owners of large fortunes."

Despite its relatively stable democracy and a good ranking in RSF's World Press Freedom Index (31rd out of 180 countries), Chile continues to suffer from corruption and from hangovers from the military dictatorship.

RSF condemned a military court's violation of the principle of the confidentiality of journalists' sources in November 2015, after the court pressured the magazine The Clinic to reveal its sources for a story about a scandal involving army officers.

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