Criminalisation of speech on the rise in Uruguay in recent months


During the months of July and August 2017, there was a noted increase in instances of the criminalisation of speech in Uruguay, with some cases of public servants taking legal actions against journalists or media outlets. Although 2009 legislative reforms limited the application of libel or what is termed 'desacato', it did not repeal all forms of it. Examples of recent cases of criminalising speech include the following:

In August 2017, it was reported that José Coya, former president of the national oil company ANCAP, initiated a criminal cases against El País newspaper and journalist Daniel Isgleas. The case was instigated by an article that the journalist published in June 2017 on the improper procedures conducted in the adjudication of a project to Brazilian company OAS, which is currently under investigation for corruption.

Another case involves the president of the National Health Services Administration, Susana Muñiz, who initiated a legal cases against journalist Gabriel Pereyra of El Observador newspaper. The case was finally dropped after an agreement between the parties was reached. 

Another report stated that the former Vice-President Raúl Sendic had announced the taking of legal action against journalists Patricia Madrid and Vivian Ruggiero - authors of a book about his life. In addition, Sandra Medina, director of Eyes Hospital, announced legal action against the channel 4 TV programme “Santo y Seña”.

In response to the above-mentioned cases, civil society organisations, such as Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública, issued a public statement to raise awareness about the unusual number and frequency of lawsuits against journalists. The Centre stated that:

“The tendency of public officials to start legal action around journalistic research due to their discomfort, is an attack on freedom of expression as it has been pointed out by human rights organisations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression”.