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IAPA warns of setback in attempt to make crimes against journalists a federal offence

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 3 March 2009 IAPA press release:

IAPA warns of setback in attempt to make crimes against journalists a federal offense

Claims the Mexican Congressional Judicial Committee is ignoring the consensus reached by federal lawmakers and local and international press freedom and human rights organizations

Miami (March 3, 2009) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today censured the setback for press freedom and free speech in Mexico contained in new proposals made public by the federal Chamber of Deputies' Judicial Committee, chaired by Congressman César Camacho.

According to the committee's bill shown to representatives of the IAPA recently, work carried out for years by the Chamber of Deputies' Special Commission for Attacks on Journalists and News Media, headed by Congressman Gerardo Priego, was not included. Last November, the commission submitted a legislative bill to allow judicial investigations into attacks on journalists and news media to be dealt with at the federal level. The bill was signed by party leaders.

On a number of occasions Congressman Camacho has made statements which the IAPA considers have confused the issue, including his announcement that the federalization of these crimes would first require an amendment to the Mexican Constitution, which differs not only from the initiative presented by Congressman Priego's commission but also similar proposals by academics, editors and publishers.

In contrast to these positions, the Judicial Committee has drawn up a bill to amend the Federal Penal Code, seeking to sanction an increase in penalties, by one to five years of additional prison time, for those who attack journalists, and suggesting a limited definition of "journalistic activity." At the same time, the bill limits federal authorities' intervention to cases that have occurred in "embassies, consulates, aboard boats or during flights, or those committed by federal public servants."

"The IAPA's Impunity Committee, after reviewing the draft report and interviewing Congressman Camacho and his legal advisers, believes that this new initiative will have marginal results and is based on policies that are totally useless for confronting the growing number of journalists and news media being assailed by violence," declared Committee Chairman Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal.

He added that "this proposal comes up completely short of its purpose", ignoring even the cases under the jurisdiction of the Mexican Attorney General's Office that are bogged down in the Special Prosecutor's Office set up to handle them because demands for its reform are also stalled.

In a note presented to the Judicial Commission during a visit last week, IAPA officers argued that according to a review by Mexican jurists "a mistake in interpretation is being made because federalizing crimes against freedom of expression is not an issue tied to Article 73 of the Constitution nor to creating an abstract and generic form of crime, rather it belongs among the different offenses already existing under the Penal Code." They reiterated that "such crimes, when committed against journalists during the exercise of freedom of expression, affect other fundamental rights including freedom of the press and the right to information - both expressly federal offenses. That is the express and specific letter and spirit of the Constitution, international treaties and supporting legislation."

Referring to the Judicial Committee's argument that making the crimes federal offenses is only possible through constitutional reform, IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón countered that it does not take into consideration the assessments behind the legislative bill drawn up by the Congress's Special Commission for Attacks on Journalists and News Media, signed by representatives of a majority of the political groups represented in the legislature and presented on November 21 last year. That bill, Santos Calderón recalled, achieved a consensus after months of work and consultations among federal legislators, jurists, journalists and members of national and international organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights and press freedom.

Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, pointed out that a group of 50 reporters, editors and news media owners throughout the country, brought together by the IAPA in June last year at a national conference, submitted reform proposals for debate in the federal legislature that have since, for the most part, been taken up by the Special Commission for Attacks on Journalists and News Media. He added that these proposals set forth the federalization of crimes against journalists and the media in an efficient and practical manner, respecting the legal framework, the Constitution, international treaties, the Federal Penal Code and the Organic Law of the Mexican Judiciary.

In this regard, the IAPA officers regretted "this surprising setback to the progress that was made" and expressed their fears that the Justice Committee is obstructing a reform that appeared to be on its way to remedying the problem of violent actions that violate the right to freedom of expression and of the press.

Updates alert on initiative to make crimes against journalists a federal offence:

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