Costa Rica

There have been no serious political scandals or moves to censor or silence the country’s press. However, lawmakers committed one serious misstep that could have had a major impact on press freedom. In July, members of the Legislative Assembly passed in a first-round of voting an information crimes bill that sought to increase jail terms allotted for acts of “political espionage,” included in the country’s Penal Code for the past 42 years. The reforms called for jail terms for those convicted ranging from four to eight years. That meant that under sentencing guidelines, anyone facing charges of “political espionage” would serve mandatory jail terms if convicted, whereas softer sentencing guidelines currently allow judges flexibility to release defendants or waive jail time. According to the Penal Code reform’s definition of “political espionage,” journalists and other citizens could have been charged for “improperly obtaining secret political information or information related to public security.” The draconian sentencing guidelines and vague description of “political espionage” led to an immediate outcry by members of the press and social and political commentators, who pointed out that had the bill passed a second round of voting in Congress and been signed by President Laura Chinchilla, serious investigations into any type of political affair could have been hampered under the threat of long jail terms. Facing considerable criticism, lawmakers blamed their legislative advisors for what they said was a “mistake.” More cynical observers saw the move as an attempt to block investigations by the press into current misdeeds by politicians, including lawmakers. The bill was indefinitely archived. A Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom bill still is postponed in the Legislative Assembly indefinitely. Since taking office in 2010, President Chinchilla has made no effort to make discussion of the bill a priority, despite helping to draft it during her tenure as a legislator. The bill was presented to the assembly in 2002. The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but punitive defamation laws leave journalists exposed to potential criminal charges for defamation or libel.