Journalists concerned over legislation threatening press freedom

Expression

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index shows a five point decline in press freedom for Uruguay. Though it is considered “a model country regarding freedom of information," RSF noted several cases of journalists being threatened, intimidated or pressured when reporting on controversial issues or sensitive topics involving members of the president’s administration.

As previously reported on the Monitor, in February 2017 an executive decree was issued, leading to a setback in regards to government transparency and freedom of information. La Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya (Association of the Uruguayan Press) and a group of journalists have appealed to the Administrative Court to revoke the decree. In their appeal, the journalists noted that the bill threatens press freedom and the right to access information. The executive branch has 150 days to analyse the Association's claim. If it does not within the allotted time period, hearings on the case will begin.

In addition, the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, published on 15th March 2017, shows that regulations for Law No. 19,307 on Audio-visual Communication Services, effective as of 29th December 2014, have still not been implemented. The report also states that President Tabaré Vazquez and his administration have been waiting for the Supreme Court of Justice to finish ruling on a series of constitutional challenges that a number of audio-visual communication companies have brought to court in regards to the law. Although the Supreme Court had already made 13 judgments, full implementation of the law is still pending. As reported previously on the Monitor, 36 media organisations have issued a public statement in support of the implementation of such regulations.

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th March 2017, the government signed a decree, thereby modifying decree N°127/999 and allowing the Interior Minister to pursue any measure to preserve the public use of streets and routes that could be interrupted by people, vehicles or other objects. The decree ultimately allows the police to intervene without any judicial authorisation to clear streets and roads of obstructions.

Civil society reacted to the decree with statements, protests and legal actions. El Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública issued a statement on the importance of respecting the Inter-American system and standards of freedom of peaceful assembly that clearly state that blocking streets or routes is a form of protest and it is the state's duty to protect and respect such actions. On 30th March, trade unions from the public sector initiated legal action against the decree, considering it to be unconstitutional.

Furthermore, on 6th April 2017, organisations, teachers and students marched through downtown Montevideo to protest the decree, with signs and slogans, reading: “No to the repressive decree, streets are for the people. Fewer resources for repression, more for education”.