Puerto Rico

The year began with a legal victory for press freedom when criminal defamation was declared unconstitutional. The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the four articles of the criminal libel law of Puerto Rico are unconstitutional. The case was brought several years ago by Caribbean International News, parent company of the newspaper El Vocero; journalists of that daily, Tomás De Jesús Manguay and Jorge Luis Medina; journalist Manny Suárez of The San Juan Star; and the Overseas Press Club of Puerto Rico (OPC). The Justice Department decided not to appeal the decision. At present, the Puerto Rican Senate is revising the Criminal Code and it will take into account the appeals court decision, said Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib, chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The judicial system is still studying a case brought by several political figures, including the president of a party, who brought criminal charges of rioting in connection with a protest over the absence of a U.S. flag in a government agency. The trial of four of them is set for May 5 in the Superior Court of San Juan. It is expected that a group of journalists who covered the incident will be called to testify. These same journalists were called by the prosecution during the charging phase of the investigation. Some complied with the summons, but refused to testify and others did not appear. The prosecution also forced three private television stations to hand over raw videotape of the incident. The government station TuTV-Canal 6, which recycles its crude video immediately, had to prepare a videotape of the segments used in its newscasts. The videotape from Channel 6 and the raw video from the private stations are being used as a prosecution exhibit. The Supreme Court dismissed a petition by the Puerto Rican Journalists Association to eliminate a gag rule in a court where a police brutality case is being heard.