Friday, April 17, 2009

Mexico: Reform of the Federal Penal Code Falls Short in Protecting the Right to Freedom of Expression

16 April 2009

Mexico: Reform of the Federal Penal Code Falls Short in
Protecting the Right to Freedom of Expression

The Mexican Chamber of Deputies has approved an incomplete reform to confront
the prevailing impunity for crimes against journalists in the country, after a long
consultative process among legislators, journalists, academics and civil society,
including ARTICLE 19.

Drafted by the Justice Commission and unanimously approved by 263 votes in the
Chamber of Deputies, the bill amending the Federal Criminal Code now includes
“crimes committed against freedom of expression exercised through the practice of
journalism”. The next step will be to have this initiative approved by the Senate and
published in the Official Government Record, before it comes into force.

The bill means that the Federal Criminal Code will now punish crimes committed
against freedom of expression, in the practice of journalism, provided a clear intent to
impede or limit free expression can be established. The bill also determines who will
be protected by the new provision.

There is an urgent need for effective laws to prevent and prosecute violations of
freedom of expression in Mexico – indeed there is an ever-increasing number of
attacks against journalists and media workers, and a general climate of impunity for

In 2008, ARTICLE 19 hosted an international mission to document attacks against
journalists and the media in Mexico. Comprising 13 international organisations
working to defend and promote free expression, the mission recommended that the
country’s laws needed to be reformed in order to address the deteriorating situation
for journalists. Mexico received further, similar recommendations from the United
Nations Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in February
2009. ARTICLE 19 has consistently advocated for legal reform, most recently during
the official visit of President Felipe Calderon to the United Kingdom last month.

ARTICLE 19 celebrates this recent reform because it recognises freedom of
expression as a protected human right, and establishes that aggressions committed
against practising journalists constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of
expression, if the objective is to silence them. It also establishes an ample spectrum
of protection for all persons practising journalism and informing the public. This includes alternative, community, and independent media, and both freelance and
commercial journalists.

The reform contrasts, however, with the restrictive criteria currently used by the
Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists (FEADP) to determine, and
investigate aggressions of this nature. The victim must be able to prove that they are a
professional journalist and must be a staff member of an established media
organisation, in order to fall under FEADP jurisdiction.

ARTICLE 19 believes that this reform alone is not sufficient to protect freedom of
expression, as it does not provide federal authorities with the power to investigate
cases falling under local jurisdictions. The majority of aggressions committed against
journalists and media workers fall under local jurisdiction but the additional process
regulations needed to investigate these cases have been excluded.

The reform to the Federal Criminal Code does not federalise crimes committed
against journalists due to the fact that the reform does not give the federal authorities
alone the capacity to investigate and punish crimes against those who practice
journalism. With the reform, the federal authorities will only be able to investigate
crimes under the same circumstances they already investigate, based on the rules of
competence established in federal criminal law, mainly on the Federal Organic Law
of the Judicial Power.

Although ARTICLE 19 and other relevant actors have lobbied for reform of the
criminal code and failure to include the abovementioned provisions results in an
initiative that falls short of what is needed. The Commission for Constitutional Points
of the Chamber of Deputies has approved a draft bill that will amend the constitution
to enable federal authorities to investigate crimes against freedom of expression, but
this is yet to be approved by the Justice Commission. The approval of this
constitutional reform would mean a decisive step against impunity, giving the
federation better tools to combat the situation as it stands.

As a result of this, ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Federal Legislative Power to:
• Immediately approve the reforms to the Federal Criminal Code in the Senate,
including the bill on “crimes committed against freedom of expression
exercised through the practice of journalism”, so that it can be entered into
• Approve constitutional amendments to Article 73, fraction XXI of the
Constitution in the Chamber of Deputies, in order to establish the power of
the federal authorities over crimes against freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Federal Executive Power to:
• Restructure and strengthen the FEADP to provide them with the capacity to
effectively undertake their obligations to investigate crimes against those
practising journalism and to bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the State Congresses to:
• Harmonise local criminal legislation to bring it into line with the ““crimes
committed against freedom of expression exercised through the practice of
• For more information: please contact Cynthia Cardenas, ARTICLE 19 Mexico and
Central America at, (55) 1054-6500
• ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the
world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name
from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free

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