Freedom of Expression

Press Release R51-09


Nº R51/09




Washington, D.C., July 21, 2009—The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expresses its deep concern over the criminal conviction of Milton Nelson Chacaguasay, editor and director of the weekly La Verdad, in the province of El Oro, Ecuador, and over the prison sentence handed down by the judge in the case.


According to the information received, Chacaguasay was charged with libel by a former district attorney because of a story published by La Verdad that allegedly linked the former official to a notary whose allegedly illegal business dealings had purportedly harmed several individuals. According to this information, the journalist published an article based on an official report that indicated that the authorities had found, in the notary’s house, a check for $5,000 made out by the former district attorney. The article had the photo of the check. As a result of the publication of this story, the process for libel started and the journalist was sentenced in April 2009 to 30 days in prison. Following an appeal, the sentence was increased to four months. Chacaguasay is serving his sentence in a penitentiary sin July 8, 2009. The journalist has denounced serious violations of due process in the course of his case and has requested protection to the authorities, fearing that his life could be at risk in prison.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers that the various verdicts issued against the journalist Chacaguasay represent a setback in the progress made in the region, under which it is understood that authorities of the States of the Americas must not use criminal law to punish those who carry out investigations or voice personal opinions about issues of public interest or about public officials. In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that Principle 11 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression establishes that "public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society" and highlights that the use of criminal law, especially when is used and applied by the authorities subject to greater scrutiny, has an extremely serious silencing effect which restricts not only democratic debate but also the right of a society to receive diverse and ample information on issues of public relevance.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its deep concern over the conviction of Chacaguasay and urges the authorities of the State of Ecuador to take into account international standards on the right to freedom of expression, which derive from Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. In particular, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that according to Principle 10 of the Declaration of Principles, laws that guarantee individual rights should neither inhibit nor restrict the investigation and dissemination of information in the public interest. "The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. In addition, in these cases, it must be proven that in disseminating the news, the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news," Principle 10 states.


For additional information about the Office of the Special Rapporteur or the advances cited herein:  Press Contact: Leticia Linn /  Tel. (202) 458-3796/  E-mail: [email protected]