Costa Rica

There were no significant developments threatening press freedom during this period. A telling moment in the country’s fight for greater press freedom came in February when the Third Section of the Supreme Court overturned a 50-day prison sentence for a journalist accused of libel. José Luis Jiménez, reporter for the local daily Diario Extra was sued in 2004 by a public employee suspected of misusing government funds. He was convicted under a 108-year-old-law, but the review court revoked the sentence. The judges said there had been an “implied repeal” of the relevant portion of the criminal code since its approval in 1971. The decision was celebrated by local reporters and international press agencies alike, since it implies that in Costa Rica there is no more prison for press crimes. Since 2001, legislators had been studying a reform of press laws to reflect international standards. However, the proposed changes have languished on legislators’ desks since, not quite making it to the floor for debate. According to a survey conducted in January, nearly half of Costa Ricans (49 percent) consider the country’s laws restrictive in the free exercise of freedom of the expression. Eduardo Ulibarri, president of the Institute for Press and Free Expression, which undertook the survey, said this statistic should serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers to take up the bill for debate. He is hopeful that concerns over criminal punishment for defamation and other press freedom initiatives will be addressed by the next administration, due to take office in May, especially since the president-elect Laura Chinchilla helped with the bill when she served as legislator. Another celebratory moment for press freedom came in late February, when the constitutional court ruled in favor of two journalists of the newspaper La Teja, who were denied credentials to an international soccer match. La Teja had published a caricature of the players of Costa Rica’s national soccer team, an image which the Federation considered demeaning. In retaliation, the paper was denied further access to soccer matches. An independent attorney submitted an appeal for support in favor of La Teja , accusing the Costa Rican Soccer Federation of violating rights of free opinion and encouraging censorship, thus restricting press freedom. The Constitutional Court demanded that the Federation pay damages and determined unanimously that the president and secretary of the Federation abstain in the future from any similar response.