IPI Thoughts On Criminal Defamation In The Caribbean
Early this year, Dominican journalist Johnny Alberto Salazar was sentenced to six months in jail for slander and libel. The charges stemmed from Salazar’s on-air comments accusing Pedro Baldera, a local Human Rights Committee official, of “protecting delinquents and people linked to organised crime.” Salazar, an elected council member and well-known local gadfly, said prior to his arrest that he had been receiving threats from the government for his criticism of officials.
In June, the decision was thrown out by an appeals court. But the effect of the prosecution remains. Though the Dominican Republic retains a fairly clean press record, with Salazar potentially becoming the first ever journalist jailed for professional activities, the existence of criminal defamation laws leaves the threat of retribution forever looming. As recently as June, Dominican politicians, and diplomats across the Caribbean, expressed their belief that defamation is best dealt with in a civil courtroom. The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on these countries to take the next step and remove these latent laws from their books.
Criminal libel law was born in an Elizabethan England courtroom as a means for silencing critique of the privileged class. A law of such antiquated ethos has little place in modern society where the press plays a pivotal role in shaping public discourse.
Read full official press release (pdf): IPI on Criminal Defamation in the Caribbean