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IAPA calls on Senate to pass constitutional amendment on crimes against journalists

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, November 15, 2011 - Today the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) welcomed the passage by Mexico's Chamber of Deputies of a constitutional amendment that would enable federal instead of state authorities to prosecute crimes against journalists and against freedom of expression. At the same time, IAPA urged the federal Senate to ratify the amendment before the current legislative session ends in December.

The proposal is similar in some ways to laws that have been enacted in some Latin American countries and to U.S. legislation that authorizes federal civil prosecution of actions deemed to violate federal civil rights that state courts and juries found not guilty of violating state criminal statutes. State and local courts in many Latin American countries are considered less impartial in prosecuting crimes against journalists because they often are less independent.

IAPA President Milton Coleman, senior editor of The Washington Post, Washington, DC, said that the long-awaited move would give Mexican authorities stronger legal weapons to end the violence unleashed against journalists and other citizens who simply are reporting events of public interest and expressing their opinions in the Mexican democracy.

The amendment was contained in an addition to Article 73, Clause 21 of the Federal Constitution of Mexico. Members of the lower house of the Mexican congress from various political parties passed the measure November 9. Its text, in Spanish, specifies that "federal authorities shall also be able to deal with serious crimes connected to federal offenses or with those against journalists, persons or installations, which impair, limit or infringe the right to information or freedom of expression and of the press."

Some 362 members of the lower house supported the amendment. There were two abstentions. The constitutional amendment now goes to the Senate for ratification and subsequent approval by at least 16 of 30 state legislatures.

Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, president of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal and chairman of IAPA's Impunity Committee, which focuses on the protection of journalists, said he was pleased that "this pending matter has been finally settled in our country, especially because there will be more hope for justice in all those cases of murder of journalists in the interior of the nation, where our work was much more vulnerable."

Coleman and Ealy Ortiz recalled that making crimes against freedom of information and press freedom federal offenses is an issue that the IAPA put on the public agenda in 1997. Since then, Ealy Ortiz said "we have insisted on the matter with Mexican public officials, especially during numerous meetings with legislators from all parties in Congress and with former presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox. The matter has also been addressed recurrently with President Felipe Calderón, as well as with editors and publishers during a large number of forums that the IAPA has held in Mexico."

In this regard, Gustavo Mohme, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, stressed that the IAPA's agenda against impunity in Mexico has also included "not making crimes against journalists subject to statutes of limitations, a stiffening of penalties for such crimes, and the creation of a system of safety and protection for men and women while carrying out their news work."

"This passage in the Chamber of Deputies," Mohme added, "is without doubt good news for Mexico but also an excellent sign for the rest of the Americas, as it guides the efforts that journalists must make in seeking better working conditions in practicing their profession."

According to statistics compiled by the IAPA from 2005 to date 46 journalists have been killed in Mexico, while another 18 are missing and unaccounted for.

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