Sign up for weekly updates

Federal Penal Code reform falls short in protecting right to freedom of expression, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 16 April 2009 - The Mexican Chamber of Deputies has approved an incomplete reform to confront the prevailing impunity for crimes against journalists in the country, after a long consultative process among legislators, journalists, academics and civil society, including ARTICLE 19.

Drafted by the Justice Commission and unanimously approved by 263 votes in the Chamber of Deputies, the bill amending the Federal Criminal Code now includes "crimes committed against freedom of expression exercised through the practice of journalism". The next step will be to have this initiative approved by the Senate and published in the Official Government Record, before it comes into force.

The bill means that the Federal Criminal Code will now punish crimes committed against freedom of expression, in the practice of journalism, provided a clear intent to impede or limit free expression can be established. The bill also determines who will be protected by the new provision.

There is an urgent need for effective laws to prevent and prosecute violations of freedom of expression in Mexico - indeed there is an ever-increasing number of attacks against journalists and media workers, and a general climate of impunity for perpetrators.

In 2008, ARTICLE 19 hosted an international mission to document attacks against journalists and the media in Mexico. Comprising 13 international organisations working to defend and promote free expression, the mission recommended that the country's laws needed to be reformed in order to address the deteriorating situation for journalists. Mexico received further, similar recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in February 2009. ARTICLE 19 has consistently advocated for legal reform, most recently during the official visit of President Felipe Calderon to the United Kingdom last month.

ARTICLE 19 celebrates this recent reform because it recognises freedom of expression as a protected human right, and establishes that aggressions committed against practising journalists constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression, if the objective is to silence them. It also establishes an ample spectrum of protection for all persons practising journalism and informing the public. This includes alternative, community, and independent media, and both freelance and commercial journalists.

The reform contrasts, however, with the restrictive criteria currently used by the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists (FEADP) to determine and investigate aggressions of this nature. The victim must be able to prove that they are a professional journalist and must be a staff member of an established media organisation in order to fall under FEADP jurisdiction.

ARTICLE 19 believes that this reform alone is not sufficient to protect freedom of expression, as it does not provide federal authorities with the power to investigate cases falling under local jurisdictions. The majority of aggressions committed against journalists and media workers fall under local jurisdiction but the additional process regulations needed to investigate these cases have been excluded.

The reform to the Federal Criminal Code does not federalise crimes committed against journalists due to the fact that the reform does not give the federal authorities alone the capacity to investigate and punish crimes against those who practice journalism. With the reform, the federal authorities will only be able to investigate crimes under the same circumstances they already investigate, based on the rules of competence established in federal criminal law, mainly on the Federal Organic Law of the Judicial Power.

Although ARTICLE 19 and other relevant actors have lobbied for reform of the criminal code, the failure to include the abovementioned provisions results in an initiative that falls short of what is needed. The Commission for Constitutional Points of the Chamber of Deputies has approved a draft bill that will amend the constitution to enable federal authorities to investigate crimes against freedom of expression, but this is yet to be approved by the Justice Commission. The approval of this constitutional reform would mean a decisive step against impunity, giving the federation better tools to combat the situation as it stands.

As a result of this, ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Federal Legislative Power to:
- Immediately approve the reforms to the Federal Criminal Code in the Senate, including the bill on "crimes committed against freedom of expression exercised through the practice of journalism", so that it can be entered into force.
- Approve constitutional amendments to Article 73, fraction XXI of the Constitution in the Chamber of Deputies, in order to establish the power of the federal authorities over crimes against freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Federal Executive Power to:
- Restructure and strengthen the FEADP to provide them with the capacity to effectively undertake their obligations to investigate crimes against those practising journalism and to bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the State Congresses to:
- Harmonise local criminal legislation to bring it into line with the "crimes committed against freedom of expression exercised through the practice of journalism".

Latest Tweet:

Malaysia: @CIJ_Malaysia is concerned over the use of the Sedition Act to arrest individuals for posting comments on…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.