Report to the Midyear Meeting

Panama, Panama

March 6 – 9, 2015

After a long battle launched by the news media to dismantle legal clauses that made so-called "press crimes" legal offenses Congress in November 2014 passed a new Criminal Code that does away with those offenses, thus giving an impulse to efforts by the independent press to have declared as unconstitutional several articles of the law on expression and dissemination of thought which in themselves preserve a parallel regime of punishments in cases of defamation and libel.

Under the new code there are eliminated the so-called "lese majesty offenses" that were applied to the press in cases of defamation or libel of the Head of State, public officials and diplomatic representatives, court and tribunal justices or the presidents or sovereigns of other nations.

In the new code there only remains regulated defamation made outside news media, purely and simply, the same for officials and for members of the public, although there still prevail sanctions and fines under the special law that regulates freedom of expression, which are being appealed in the Constitutional Tribunal.

The Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia (Finjus) legal foundation said that it is necessary that these clauses be eliminated so as to be in line with what the 2010 Dominican Republic Constitution postulates, as while the special law establishes a system of domino effect that makes media editors and publishers guilty of any defamation or libel provoked by third parties, the Constitution indicates that no one is responsible for such the crimes of others and, moreover, prohibits prior censorship.

There has been a resurgence of incidents of attacks, harassments and threats to journalists belonging to various media.

In November men armed with sticks attacked several journalists who were covering a private activity of former president Leonel Fernández at a Santo Domingo hotel, seizing from them their cameras and film while a group opposed to the former president was holding a demonstration against him.

In the city of Santiago in December cameraman Domingo Díaz of Telemicro Canal 5 television was beaten up by several police officers who intercepted him on an avenue allegedly for having violated traffic laws.

In January another cameraman, Eduardo González, was attacked by a member of the Electoral Military Police as he was recording the process of issuance of new identity cards for Dominicans, which the military opposed.

In early February four journalists complained at a press conference that they are receiving death threats from people who disagree with their positions concerning dealing with immigration issues and treatment of undocumented Haitians.

Journalists Juan Bolívar Díaz, director of the morning program "Uno+Uno" broadcast by Teleantillas television, Luis Eduardo Lora and Amélia Deschamps of the morning show "El Día" on Canal 11 television, and Roberto Cavada, host of the newscast "Telesistema" on Canal 11 filed a formal complaint with a public prosecutor concerning a person who declared during a demonstration that they had to be killed for being traitors to the Fatherland. That individual said, according to the journalists, that he belonged to a self-styled Independent Patriotic Movement.

The person indicated as the one who made the threat was called in by a court in the city of Moca, in the north of the country, but was set free without being charged.

The Dominican Newspapers Society, made up of several IAPA members, announced the formation of a committee to watch over press freedom in the country.