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WPFC-FH submits amicus brief before Constitutional Court in support of decriminalisation of defamation sanctions

(WPFC-FH/IFEX) - Washington, USA, Nov. 14, 2011 - The World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House - an organization bringing together 43 press freedom groups throughout the world - has submitted an amicus curiae brief to Ecuador's Constitutional Court in support of a motion of unconstitutionality originated by Fundamedios of Ecuador against criminal defamation laws.

The brief, written by press freedom expert Kevin Goldberg, esq., puts forward a detailed legal analysis that contests any need to criminalize defamation sanctions. The amicus brief is based on broad international jurisprudence - especially that of the inter-American justice system - that holds that such sanctions must be dealt with by civil, not criminal, courts.

According to the brief, "Laws punishing speech that reports on, comments about or criticizes public officials have no place in a democratic society. They are intended only to punish news media, journalists or other persons who may seem to have insulted or disparaged a public leader or official."

Fundamedios decided to submit its motion of unconstitutionality (case #0026-11-IN) in view of the alarming regression of press freedom currently in Ecuador.

"In recent years, there has been a historic growth in cases of criminal defamation charges against Ecuadorian journalists," said Javier Sierra, WPFC-FH's Projects Director. "The current tide of judicial harassment cases that takes advantage of these criminal laws has intensified repression and self-censorship of the country's independent media."

In Freedom House's 2010 press freedom report, Ecuador has increased its negative rating by 11 points since 2007, and now it is rated "partly free," in 52nd place of world rankings.

WPFC-FH's stand is based on the Draconian conditions in which Ecuadorian independent journalists must work to fill their obligations to inform the public on matters of social relevance.

The brief also focuses on another fundamental press freedom principle supported by the inter-American jurisprudence: that public figures should receive less, not more, protection from alleged insults than ordinary citizens. Special protection, often exclusively for a select few public officials, dates back at least to the Roman Empire, which instituted it to shield the Emperor from criticism.

The climate of hostility against independent media and its source at the top of the Ecuadorian government is reaching dangerous levels even for the physical integrity of press freedom advocates. Recently, after denouncing abuses against press freedom in his country, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, Fundamedios' Executive Director César Ricaurte received death threats.

This is yet one more reason why Ecuador's Constitutional Court should make a clear reaffirmation of democracy, transparency and press freedom by upholding the motion of unconstitutionality of Article 230 of Ecuador's Criminal Code.

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