Colombia’s House of Representatives on Monday approved legislation that allows government officials to request the shut-down of news media that report on them.
The controversial rider was part of an “anti-corruption” bill that was sponsored by coalition party Radical Change and has yet to be approved by the Senate.
The vote triggered a storm of protest of free speech advocates who claimed that the bill sought to censor journalists who report on government corruption.
In response to the blowback, Congress amended the article, which initially allowed government official to request an arraignment judge to jail critics charged with slander or defamation.
When the person who defames or slanders a public servant or former public servant is a legal representative or member of any community organization and uses it to commit the crime, the arraignment judge shall order the competent authority to proceed to the suspension or cancellation of the legal entity of the community organization to which it belongs, upon the request of the prosecutor or the victim and in compliance with the legal requirements established for this.
Proposed article 221A of Colombia’s criminal code
Despite the change, press freedom organization FLIP said that the pending amendment of the criminal code introduced “a decidedly backwards norm against the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression and the right to information of Colombians.”
The support of 73 representatives for the imposition of these disproportionate and chastening measures against the press, contrary to all warnings of their censorious effect, reveals a legislature that rejects citizen oversight and instead wields power for the purpose of intimidation, an ominous message for the freedom of expression.
The Colombian branch of Transparency International said that the possible approval of the bill in the senate “would be a setback for the fight against corruption” as it “generates disincentives to reporting and puts at risk the freedom of expression.”
Electoral observers joined the free speech advocates and rejected the proposed amendment of the criminal code that “restricts the oversight of citizens.”
It is not the Congress of the Republic that should indicate the tone and content of what people talk about. The citizenry does not have to speak according to the sensibilities of public officials and former public officials.
Electoral Observation Mission
The opposition said it would challenge the legislation before the Constitutional Court if the Senate votes to uphold the bill as passed by the lower chamber.