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Friday, 30 April 2021 15:32

Judicial Harassment of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, the Victim is Freedom of Speech

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  • On World Press Freedom Day (May 3), FLIP and ARTÍCULO 19 México, unite to curb judicial harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.

  • In the framework of this date, FLIP and ARTÍCULO 19 México, with support from Justice for Journalists, present the report: Laws of Silence, Judicial Harassment to Freedom of Speech in Mexico and Colombia. 

  • Judicial persecution and harassment are the abuse of judicial mechanisms to censor and intimidate persons who disclose information of public interest, whether for their journalistic work and/or for the defense of human rights.

Read the report here

Judicial harassment is a form of aggression involving legal actions against journalists or whistleblowers who investigate and report, for the most part, on corruption and irregularities in State entities. Some of these actions are usually civil lawsuits, criminal charges, administrative proceedings, or constitutional actions (in the case of Colombia). 

Such lawsuits are often supported in the defense of goodwill, honor, and privacy of public officers and individuals with public exposure. The judicial processes that are undertaken are aimed at intimidating journalists, affecting them emotionally and economically, and discouraging their investigative work. 

FLIP and ARTÍCULO 19 have noticed an increase in judicial harassment cases in recent years. For both organizations, it is very worrying that both Colombian and Mexican legislation have regulations that allow judicial harassment, and that many judges and officers of the judicial apparatus issue judgments against journalists completely opposed to international standards of freedom of speech. 

Therefore, in judicial harassment, the victim is not only the journalist or whistleblower, but also the society that sees its rights repressed. The rights to receive information and freedom of the press and of expression of all citizens are being oppressed.


The Report

Laws of Silence is a report that offers a parallel look at cases and conditions of judicial harassment in Mexico and Colombia. The authors discuss laws that facilitate judicial harassment in both countries, and the patterns of State behavior in the face of this form of aggression against the press. They also feature cases of journalists and human rights defenders who have faced excessive and arbitrary judicial proceedings, and explain the different damages suffered by victims of judicial harassment: Economic, labor, emotional, and even physical, because often, lawsuits come together with threats and attacks on the integrity of journalists.


The Figures

Judicial harassment is not a new strategy of silencing. It has been used worldwide against social organizations, but there now seems to be a boom in the use of this mechanism against the press. Between 2018 and 2020, FLIP recorded 140 cases of judicial harassment of journalists in Colombia. In the same period, ARTÍCULO 19 recorded 81 cases. 

FLIP began recording cases of judicial harassment in Colombia in 2017, when 14 cases were counted. In 2018 there were 38. 66 in 2019, and finally 36 in 2020. 

According to ARTÍCULO 19’s records, only one case was recorded in Mexico in 2015. For 2016, there were 13. Again, 13 in 2017. 21 in 2018. 21 in 2019, and finally a rise to 39 in 2020. 


The Cases

The Laws of Silence report presents eight cases of journalists and human rights defenders from both countries, including those of Colombian journalists Gonzalo Guillén, Juan Pablo Barrientos, Edison Lucio Torres, and Sergio Mesa. 

In this systematization of cases, the authors were able to see some similar patterns, such as the fact that the plaintiffs or censors are almost always State officers or public personalities, such as politicians and influential religious figures. 

It is alarming that in Colombia and Mexico the judicial apparatus is provided for the service of private and individual interests. Judicial harassment punishes the messenger, the complainant, and thus the right of everyone to receive information and for the freedom of speech.