Dominican Republic


Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida

This has been a period of successive victories for the freedom of the press as a result of rulings issued by the Constitutional Court (TC) which repealed three legal provisions containing harsh penalties and restrictions on the free exercise of journalism.

The rulings repealed restrictive provisions contained in the laws for political parties and the electoral system - approved this year by the National Congress - one of which provided for prison terms of three to 10 years for those who made "negative comments" against parties, candidates and political figures, and another that described such expressions as libel and slander, even if they were vague and imprecise.

In justifying its ruling, the Constitutional Court declared that social networks have become the only accessible venues for a significant mass of citizens to express their thoughts and receive opinions and information - which opens the way to a truly public, plural and open deliberation on matters of general interest.

The criterion established by the highest constitutional court in repealing the article imposing prison sentences of three to 10 years for sending "slandering messages" and false campaigns that undermine the honor and privacy of candidates, is that this provision violates the essential core of the right to freedom of expression.

This was an excessive penalty going beyond the existing penalty in the criminal code for libel and slander - ranging from six days to three months in prison - and the one that still exists in the Expression and Dissemination of Thought Act - ranging from 15 days to six months in prison.

Similarly, the high court repealed as unconstitutional another legal provision that prohibited the broadcasting of political propaganda on radio and television, but not in digital media - strongly opposed by the Dominican Association of Broadcasters before the Central Electoral Board.

With these three rulings, the press was spared the serious risks of falling under a scheme of preemptive censorship to denounce acts of corruption in which parties, leaders or electoral candidates could be involved.

After four years of efforts to prevent the April 2015 murder of journalist Blas Olivo from going unpunished, a collegiate court handed down sentences of 20 to 30 years to the six convicted of committing the crime.

Unlike in other periods, there have been no acts of violence against journalists during this six-month period. However, Teresa Casado - a judicial reporter for El Día newspaper - filed a complaint with the public prosecutor's office against drug trafficker Sidney Rafael Matías Pérez after receiving threatening messages. The journalist has been reporting on the case of Matías Pérez - who is currently on probation. The authorities provided special protection for the journalist.

Several newspapers editorialized on the difficulties in receiving information from the Ministry of Public Health and the directors of state hospitals about fatal victims of the dengue epidemic that has plagued the country for the past three months - despite the existence of a law on access to public information.

At the end of September, television commentator Marino Zapete, one of the strongest critics of the government, denounced the forced closure of his evening program on Channel 45 of Teleradio América. The journalist said that his departure was the result of a pressure exerted before his owners by the Attorney General of the Republic, Jean Alain Rodríguez, after revelations that his sister had allegedly benefited from contracts with the Ministry of Public Works for some 15 million Dollars. The sister of the Attorney General of the Republic summoned Zapete to present the evidence she claims to have on said contracts or to retract. The journalist presented at a press conference and on a television program the documents on which he relied to make the accusations.