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Fighting & Winning Against Costa Rica Libel Laws

Costa Rica News – Chalk one up for the good guys, well sometimes the good guys……ahhh who am I kidding the media and the press are in most cases the bad guys and push people’s opinions for a reason.  

costa rica libel lawThis past week the Criminal Court of Perez Zeledon ruled in favor of three journalists from various Spanish language media outlets. They were acquitted of all charges regarding damaging the honor of a dentist by publishing a conviction against him.

The three reporters were Ronald Moya, from La Nacion, Angie Lopez, from Al Dia, and Shirley Sandi, from La Teja. The group was represented by defense attorney Carlos Tiffer. The judges, Liner Zuniga, Cristian Calvo, and Rosa Astua, did not believe that the complaint of libel was justified. They noted that there was no intent to cause harm or damage the dentist’s reputation.

The journalists celebrated their proven innocence with their lawyer. It’s finally over. The lawsuit was originally filed in November 2010, after all three newspapers reported that Oscar Delgado Madrigal was sentenced to pay 3 million colones to his ex-wife for humiliating her.

Delgado argued that the publications generated ridicule from his neighbors and that, because of the reports, his clinic suffered a decline in customers. His lawyer, Sonia Barrantes, is about to analyze the situation to see if there is any possibility of an appeal. Chances are that there is not.

Libel is to publish in print or otherwise broadcast an untruth with the intention to harm a person. Libel laws in Costa Rica used to be very strict, usually including jail time for the convicted. The 1902 Printing Press Law was in effect until 2010. It had a prison sentence of up to 120 days for defamation. As of 2010, the laws have become lighter.

Now one who slanders can be fined or placed on the list of convicted criminals, but not put in jail. This change came after the 1994 statement by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which stated, “Considering the consequences of criminal sanctions and the inevitable chilling effect they have on freedom of expression, criminalization of speech can only apply in those exceptional circumstances when there is an obvious and direct threat of lawless violence.”

The worst thing about libel laws in Costa Rica is in most cases it is guilty until proven innocent. Most newspapers in Costa Rica have a $10,000 plus fund to fight these cases each year.

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