Dominican Republic legislators plan to repeal criminal defamation – Announcement comes after IPI lobbying as part of C’bean campaign

The International Press Institute (IPI) just welcomed a commitment from legislators in the Dominican Republic to repeal all criminal defamation and insult laws in the Penal Code and accepted a second invitation to assist the Caribbean country in bringing its press laws in line with international standards.

IPI had lobbied government leaders to reject a bill to reform the Penal Code that would have included harsher penalties, including increased prison times, for defamation. While the bill appeared to provide an exemption for journalists, IPI argued that criminal defamation charges against any citizen constitute a violation of freedom of expression and work against international standards.

At a public hearing before the Justice Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, attended by numerous press and civil society groups and during which a letter from IPI was presented, committee members indicated their intention to modify the bill to completely remove criminal penalties for defamation and insult, sources told IPI.

In cooperation with its regional strategic partner, the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), IPI is currently leading a campaign to repeal criminal defamation across the Caribbean and conducted an advocacy mission to four Caribbean states, including the Dominican Republic, in June.

IPI delegates meet with members of the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies during an IPI advocacy visit in June. {PHOTO: IPI}

Dominican Republic legislators and media representatives have also invited IPI to return to offer an international perspective on planned reforms to the country’s press law—Law No. 6132, On the Expression and Diffusion of Thought—under which defamation is also criminalised. The modifications to Law No. 6132 are part of a proposed “communications code” that would modernise and consolidate statutes related to the press.

“I want to thank the members of the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies for taking into account IPI’s opinion that defamation is best handled by civil, not criminal, courts,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. “More importantly, IPI commends legislators for recognising the importance of the media in democratic societies and for working to strengthen freedom of expression for all Dominicans. We urge the government now to stick to its promise and officially repeal criminal defamation in both the Penal Code and Law No. 6132.”

She added: “IPI will be honoured to share our experience and international perspective on defamation laws in order to assist local experts in drafting a press law that reflects international standards and we look forward to returning to the Dominican Republic soon.”

The current Penal Code establishes prison penalties for defaming public officials and private citizens of up to one year and three months, respectively. In the most recent version of the Penal Code reform bill, those penalties were increased to three years and two years, respectively.

Reform of the Dominican Republic’s media laws is particularly urgent given that two journalists have been sentenced to prison on defamation charges this year alone. While an appeals court later overturned the conviction of the first, Johnny Alberto Salazar, the second, Melton Pineda, is fighting a three-month prison sentence.

IPI’s June visit to the Caribbean also included Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Jamaica, where a defamation reform bill is pending. In July, Grenada became the first independent Caribbean state to decriminalise defamation, an achievement recognised by IPI’s Executive Board.

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