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IAPA welcomes move to decriminalise defamation

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, November 30, 2011 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed the passage by the Mexican Senate of a bill to decriminalize defamation, libel and slander, and called the action "a notable advance for press freedom and democracy."

The full Senate last night approved on an 81-to-0 vote repeal of Articles 1 and 31 of the Press Offenses Law. It thus ended punishment by imprisonment for defamation, libel and slander, instead making them civil offenses. The bill now awaits signing into law by President Felipe Calderón and then its immediate publication in Mexico's Official Gazette.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, declared, "This is a notable advance for press freedom and democracy in Mexico." He added, "It is also good news in the inter-American context, as it is part of the trend to make such offenses no longer crimes, as also occurred in El Salvador some weeks ago."

The move by the Senate brings the Press Law into line with the federal penal and civil codes. In April 2007, President Calderón signed a decree repealing several clauses of the federal Penal Code, among them Articles 350 to 365 which made the offenses of defamation, libel and slander punishable by imprisonment. Violations of that law would then be treated as civil offenses subject to award of damages rather than offenders having to face prison terms. Federal senators said their action "sets new bases for strengthening freedom of expression and of the press in Mexico."

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, said, "It will also be important for the Mexican law to be able to set reasonable and proportional damages so that these do not become limitations for news media and journalists."

Meanwhile, the IAPA repeated its hope that in this period of ordinary sessions the Senate will pass the constitutional amendment already adopted by the Chamber of Deputies, so as to bring cases of murder of journalists under federal jurisdiction.

On November 11 the lower house of Congress had approved the amendment to the Constitution's Article 73 to make crimes against journalists and against freedom of expression come under federal jurisdiction.

In addition to Mexico and El Salvador, countries that have also decriminalized defamation are Argentina and Uruguay.

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