Access to Public Information, Content Regulation / Censorship, Political Expression, Press Freedom, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Sir Dawda K Jawara v. The Gambia
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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found the State of Brazil responsible for violating the rights to life, freedom of thought and expression, judicial guarantees and judicial protection to the detriment of Manoel Leal de Oliveira and his family members. Journalist Manoel Leal de Oliveira was murdered on January 14, 1998, in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Several years after the events occurred, the crime remained unpunished. The IACHR pointed out that the most violent form of violating the right to freedom of expression is the murder of journalists and social communicators. It reiterated that the murder of a journalist for the purpose of silencing him or her has an inhibiting effect on the free circulation of ideas and opinions. For the Commission, these crimes, and the lack of an effective investigation by the State, not only invite self-censorship of social communicators, but also censorship of any person who intends to denounce illegal acts or abuses of any kind.
Journalist Manoel Leal de Oliveira was founder and director of the newspaper A Região. Manoel Leal de Oliveira was known for his denunciations against local authorities, politicians, judges and police. He was known “as a polemic and courageous agitator, and responded to several judicial processes as a consequence of the denunciations made” [para. 59].
Manoel Leal de Oliveira received threats after publishing articles denouncing members of the executive branch and local civilian police. In November 1997, Oliveira was warned that police authorities and the local executive branch were planning his death. In January 1998, the journalist was murdered.
Several years after the events, the crime remained unpunished.
The IACHR, in analyzing the case, found that the State was responsible for the violation of the rights to life, freedom of thought and expression, judicial guarantees and judicial protection of the victim and his family members.
The IACHR had to analyze “whether the State was responsible for the violation of the right enshrined in Article 13 of the American Convention [on Human Rights (ACHR)], on the one hand, for the murder of Manoel Leal de Oliveira and, on the other, for the failure to investigate this crime” [para. 96].
The IACHR recalled that freedom of expression is fundamental for the development of democratic societies. Indeed, it indicated that between “two extremes, it can be said that the free circulation of ideas and opinions is to democracy what its restriction and censorship is to dictatorial regimes” [para. 92].
The Commission reiterated that freedom of expression has an individual dimension that includes “expressing, seeking, receiving and imparting information, thoughts and ideas, as well as freely choosing the means to do so. It also noted that this right has a social dimension that involves “the power to exchange ideas and information” [para. 94]. The IACHR recalled that the social dimension of freedom of expression plays an important role in the control of the management of the State or of individuals with great influence.
The IACHR noted that Article 13 of the ACHR protects the right to spread information and ideas, which in turn “is projected in the right of every citizen to receive them without illegal or unjustified interference. One of the most violent ways of violating this right is through the murder of social communicators” [para. 97]. In this regard, the IACHR recalled that its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression establishes that “murder, kidnapping, intimidation, threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of the media, violate the fundamental rights of individuals and severely restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of States to prevent and investigate these acts, to punish the perpetrators, and to ensure adequate reparation for the victims” [para. 97].
In this regard, the Commission recalled that the Inter-American Court has stated that the “murder of a journalist because of the dissemination of certain opinions generates an inhibiting effect on others who seek to act in the same way” [para. 99]. Likewise, the IACHR reiterated that, according to its jurisprudence, the murder of journalists has an intimidating and frightening effect both for journalists and for other members of society who wish to denounce abuses of power or illegal acts.
In relation to the duty to investigate crimes against journalists, the IACHR noted that the “refusal to fully investigate the murder of a journalist with the aim of silencing him or her generates an inhibiting effect on the free circulation of ideas and opinions. This type of crime invites self-censorship, not only to the detriment of social communicators, but of any citizen. This effect can only be avoided through decisive action by the State to punish those who threaten, murder or commit any form of reprisal against a person for the expression of his or her ideas and opinions” [para. 104]. In this sense, it also pointed out that the lack of a complete and effective investigation that would allow for the identification and punishment of all those responsible for the murder of journalists generated an effective inhibitor in the exercise of freedom of expression.
In the study of the specific case, the IACHR concluded that “State agents participated in the murder of Manoel Leal de Oliveria. It also stated that “such murder occurred as a result of the articles and material published by the victim in the newspaper A Região, with the objective of silencing him and as a form of reprisal for the information published. In this way, […] Brazil violated, to the detriment of Manoel de Oliveira, the right to express himself freely and to disseminate his ideas, enshrined in Article 13 of the American Convention” [para. 103]. It also concluded that the State of Brazil was internationally responsible for the violation of the right to freedom of expression for failing to comply with its duty to investigate the murder of Manoel de Oliveira.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
In this decision, the Inter-American Commission pointed out that the most violent form of violating the right to freedom of expression is the murder of journalists and social communicators. It reiterated that the murder of a journalist for the purpose of silencing him or her has an inhibiting effect on the free circulation of ideas and opinions. For the Commission, these crimes, and the lack of an effective investigation by the State, not only invited self-censorship of social communicators, but also censorship of any person who intends to denounce illegal acts or abuses of any kind.
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