Dominican Republic

Report to the Midyear Meeting 2019
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
The adoption of laws, one on political parties, groups and movements and another that shapes the electoral regime, with regulations that threaten people's freedom of expression in times of canvassing campaigns, has aroused fear of a resurgence of the censorship mechanism in the country.

To the existence of these laws there could be added others that are being discussed in Congress concerning news media which contemplate restrictions and inhibitory rules.

With them there appears to be forming a generalized climate to prevent the dissemination of denunciations of corruption or of scandalous acts of political parties and figures. The argument put forward is that this is aimed at protecting the honor on the basis of vague criteria on defamation and libel.
The Electoral Law contemplates punishments of up to 1o years of prison for offenses of defamation and libel that are committed against political candidates, groups and parties, and from three to 10 years for those that violate ethical, legal and constitutional norms through the use of print, electronic and digital news media.

Regarding the laws on parties and the electoral regime they punish with up to 10 years in prison for "negative commentaries" against pre-candidates and candidates.

The concept of "negative commentaries" goes beyond that of existing judicial concepts of "defamation" or "libel" which are already punishable under the existing Penal Code and in the Law on Expression and Dissemination of Thought. There can be considered to be negative comment anything that a pre-candidate or candidate understands to be prejudicial to his or her aspirations, even if the affirmation be true.

There was proposed in addition an electoral observatory to determine whether information is true or false, which also turns out to be a risky mechanism for free speech.

In that atmosphere of prejudices and measures against freedom of expression the Dominican Newspapers Society is seeking from Congress a new communication law that would offer more guarantees.

In the past six months there have been produced 14 cases of journalists that have been subjected to mistreatment, aggression and death threats coming from police officers and members of the military while covering events such as those of individuals and civil groups.

At least five known radio and television commentators have complained that the were prompted to resign from the programs they were working in under pressure from the government against the owners of the media outlets as a result of continual criticisms and denunciations of cases of corruption. It was not a matter of direct expulsions nor of shutdown of their programs but of administrative changes ordered by those media which the communicators did not accept.

There persist fears that there will continue to go unpunished the crimes against journalist Blas Olivo, committed in April 2015, and radio reporters Leo Martínez and Luis Manuel Medina, in February 2017.
The judicial hearings in the Olivo case had been delayed 316 times in four years. For that crime six people accused of belonging to a gang of hired guns are in prison.

In the case of the journalists murdered in a radio station cabin in the city of San Pedro de Macorís, in the east of the country, there has not yet been learned the report on the investigation ordered by the Executive Branch which would be the basis to clarify a scandal of corruption denounced by the two with the sale of land of the Azúcar State Council. The killer of the journalists died several hours after the crime in what was described as an exchange of gunfire with the police patrol that was pursuing him. The trial therefore has come to a standstill.