Global Freedom of Expression

Español

Francisco Martorell v. Chile

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Books / Plays
  • Date of Decision
    May 3, 1996
  • Outcome
    Reparations made by individual or entity who exercised FoE, ACHR or American Declaration of the Rights and Duties Violation
  • Case Number
    Informe No. 11/96
  • Region & Country
    Chile, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Type of Law
    International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation
  • Tags
    Censorship, Criminal Defamation, Public Officials, Honor and Reputation, Public Interest, Members of the Executive Branch, Exclusion Order, Individuals of public importance

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Francisco Martorell wrote a book titled “Diplomatic Impunity” that was published in Argentina by the publishing house Editorial Planeta. The book, among others topics, was about the circumstances that led a former Argentinian ambassador to leave Chile. Although the book was published in Argentina, a Chilean court banned its entry, distribution and circulation in Chile. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reviewed the case and reached the conclusion that the Chilean State had censored the book and, as a consequence, had violated Martorell’s right to freedom of expression.


Facts

In April 1993, Mr. Francisco Martorell published a book titled “Diplomatic Impunity” in Argentina with the publisher Editorial Planeta. The book was about, among other things, the circumstances that led a former Argentinian ambassador to abandon Chile.

The book was scheduled to start selling in Chile the day after its launch in Argentina. However, a Chilean businessman filed a “protection remedy” before the Santiago Court of Appeals and argued the book injured his right to privacy. The court issued a “no action order” that temporarily prohibited the entry, distribution and circulation of the book in Chile while the case was resolved on the merits [par. 1-2].

At a later time, several people filed complaints against Martorell for the crimes of defamation (injuria) and false imputation of a publicly actionable crime (calumnia).

In May 1993, the Court of Appeals granted the judicial remedy brought by the Chilean businessman and affirmed the measure that “prohibited the entrance and commercialization of the book in Chile” [par 4.]. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court but the appeal was rejected.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard the case and concluded the Chilean State had violated the Martorell’s right to freedom of expression by censoring the book.


Decision Overview

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) had to resolve whether the Chilean’s court decision to prohibit the entry, circulation and distribution of the book violated freedom of expression under article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR).

The Commission reaffirmed that freedom of expression involves both the right to express ideas and thoughts and the right to receive them. In this sense, when a person’s individual right to express him or herself is restricted, it also affects society’s right to receive the information.

The Commission indicated that article 13.2 of the ACHR allows certain restrictions to be placed upon the exercise of freedom of expression, and stipulates the legitimate limits and the requirements for establishing restrictions. In this sense, this right can only be restricted through the imposition of subsequent liabilities that are provided for by law and are necessary to ensure the objectives established in the Convention.

The Commission recalled that protecting “the rights or the reputation of others” is a legitimate purpose according to the Convention. However, regarding the rights of privacy, honor and dignity set forth in Article 11 of this instrument, “the organs of the State cannot interpret the provisions of Article 11 in a manner that violates Article 13, which prohibits prior censorship” [par. 72].

In effect, the IACHR highlighted that the Convention clearly stipulates that prior censorship is completely incompatible with the full enjoyment of the rights protected by this instrument. The Commission stressed the ACHR is the only human rights instrument containing this prohibition, which shows the importance the Inter-American system has placed on freedom of expression. In this sense, the IACHR has said “[w]hen legislating the protection of honor and dignity referred to in Article 11 of the American Convention -and when applying the relevant provisions of domestic law on this subject- States Parties have an obligation to respect the right of freedom of expression.  Prior censorship, regardless of its form, is contrary to the system that Article 13 of the Convention guarantees” [par. 74].

In the case under review, the Commission considered the decision to ban the entry, circulation and distribution of the book Diplomatic Impunity (Impunidad diplomática) in Chile was contrary to Article 13 of the ACHR. For the Commission, this constituted an of act prior censorship and, therefore, and a was not a legitimate restriction on the right to freedom of expression.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

In this decision, the Inter-American Commission reiterates the criteria for establishing restrictions in accordance with the American Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, it reaffirms prior censorship is completely prohibited.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Related International and/or regional laws

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback