FREEDOM OF OPINION, EXPRESSION AND INFORMATION1
A. General Considerations
1. The Argentine Constitution of 1853 is categorical in stating that all the inhabitants of the Nation enjoy the right “to publish their ideas in the press without prior censorship” and that “Congress shall not enact laws to restrict the freedom of the press or to establish federal jurisdiction over it.”2 But these precepts have often been violated and for practical purposes have lost their validity since the proclamation of the State of Siege in 1974, especially since the military takeover which occurred on March 24, 1976. On that date the Junta issued Communiqué Nº 19, which stated that “he, who, by whatever means, disseminates or reproduces communiqués or pictures from, or distributed to, illegal associations or persons or groups known to be identified which subversive activities or terrorism shall be punished, by imprisonment for an indefinite time period”; “he, who disseminates or reproduces news, communiqués or pictures for the purposes of disrupting, harming or discrediting the activities of the Armed Forces, security forces or police forces shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of up to 10 years.”
2. More serious than these restrictions, yet perhaps acceptable as a temporary measure during the State of Siege, was the repressive action taken by various military or police elements who sacked various newspapers throughout the country, arresting and imprisoning, editors and reporters of the various mass communications media; they intervened militarily in the Argentine Federation of Press Workers and the journalist professional associations in various cities in the country; they closed or prohibited circulation of certain journals or newspapers; they expelled correspondents of foreign press and radio agencies and burned many books and magazines. The measures that affected political or union organizations also had repercussions on the free exercise of the right to freedom of thought, since the specific laws adopted by the Government established terms of imprisonment that ranged from three to eight years for persons engaged in ideological propaganda, who exhibited, printed, edited, reproduced, distributed or disseminated material concerning outlawed bodies; the same can be said of the specific provisions issued as national security measures, since these punish any activity that tender to alter or undermine the institutional order and social peace; the authorities understand these to be any publication that they regard as dangerous.3 A good example of this is the case of the Editor of the newspaper Buenos Aires Herald, Mr. Robert Cox, who was detained for having reprinted a report published in Rome on a lecture given there by an individual who opposed the Government.
B. The situation as regards freedom of the press
1. In the Republic of Argentina in recent years and even before the military takeover of 1976, there was a peculiar system of censorship consisting of limitations and conditions decreed during the State of Siege by the Government which was overthrown March 24 of that year, and the provisions issued by the Military Junta as of that date, especially one which recommends that “the control of the communications media be through restrictive application of the corresponding laws, properly amended, so that they serve to achieve the basic objectives established.”4
2. Beyond that, the mass communications media, in general, apparently adopted a policy, understandable in light of the circumstances described, of refraining from assigning any importance to the “operations” involving the seizure of citizens regarded as terrorists or subversive elements by the authorities, the Habeas Corpus efforts, and other similar issues, frequently, the newspapers refuse to publish the paid inserts containing lists of missing persons, evidently in order to avoid problems with the authorities.
3. On September 19, 1979, the Commission had a lengthy exchange of views on these topics with special representatives of the mass communications media. On that occasion, the Commission heard opinions and views to the effect at the present time there is no press censorship.
The Commission’s view was given in-depth and continual coverage, without any form of censorship, by the local news agencies, and by foreign journalists who came to the country especially for that purpose, which seems to confirm the view cited above.
The Argentine Bar Association, however, made clear in a statement dated August 4, 1979, that “enforcement of Law Nº 20.840, prejudicial to freedom of the press, cannot be maintained without injury to the Republic, which is why its immediate modification is urged.”
C. The case of the newspaper “La Opinión”
1. As a result of the conduct in question, the mass communications media adopted an attitude of extreme prudence in judging government policy and actions and in general avoided any comment; there were very few elements of the media that commented upon government policy and actions.
2. Outstanding among the latter was the newspaper La Opinión, of recognized influence in the field of Argentine journalism; its vigilant attitude precipitated a clear violation of freedom of the press which took on international importance when on April 15, 1977, its Editor and Founder, Jacobo Timerman was detained, imprisoned and subsequently sentenced to house arrest which only recently ended.5 From the outset, the newspaper was taken over by the military, and the Government appointed an official administrator to the editorial board and a newspaper editor, which, of course, now follows the editorial line established for it by the inspector.6
D. Journalists who have been victims of human rights violations
1. During the on-site observation, the Commission was able to gather sufficient information on such violations. It was also able to establish that, in addition to the restrictions imposed on the practice of their profession, many journalists were victimized for having worked as journalists; a high percentage of the individuals indicted or charged with various types of subversive acts punishable by the security apparatus are journalists, some of whom had already been detained prior to the military takeover of 1976.7
2. A subcommittee of Relatives of Journalists, which is part of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared Detained for Political Reasons, was received by the Commission during its visit to Argentina, and reported that approximately 500 journalists were forced to leave the country for political reasons,8 and that many others have disappeared or are in detention. They submitted a list to the Commission containing the names of 68 missing journalists and 80 journalists being detained in various prison centers in the country, as well as specific testimony in connection with the facts denounced.
1 Article IV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states that “every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any means whatsoever.”
2 Articles 14 and 32 of the Argentine Constitution.
3 See Article 212 of the Penal Code and Laws Nos. 21.322 and 21.325 of June 2, 1976, as well as Law Nº 21.459 of November 18, 1976 which amended Law Nº 20.840 of September 30, 1974.
4 Immediate Government Measures of an internal political nature. 1.8 from the document containing the grounds for the intervention by the Armed Forces in the National Process, Appendix 1.
5 The house arrest of Mr. Timerman ended when he was expelled from the country and deprived of his Argentine citizenship. See Chapter IV on THE RIGHT TO LIBERTY.
6 By virtue of Decree Nº 210, circulation of issue Nº 31 of the newspaper La Opinión was prohibited; at the same time, it was made illegal to circulate issue 259 of the Magazine of the CIAS, for publishing an article on human rights which the Military Government felt discredited the image of the Armed Forces.
7 During the visit the Commission made to Rawson prison, it verified the detention of journalists who have been accused of subversive crimes; Mario Eduardo Quintana, being held in Cell House 8. When he was detained he was working for the INTERPRESS News Agency, and his case has been denounced to the Inter-American Press Association. He is being tried and held under the PEN by Decree Nº 791/78. Eduardo Jozami is being held in Cell House 6; detained since 1976, he is an attorney and journalist; when he was detained he was acting as Secretary General of the Buenos Aires Journalists Association. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment by a Military Tribunal. José Estigarribia being held in Cell House 1, was arrested in 1975, when he was working as a journalist. He is being brought to trial and held under the PEN by virtue of Decree Nº 3168. He is Paraguayan and came to Argentina as a political refugee; his wife and children are Argentines. He was declared a refugee by the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. In the Prison Hospital of Villa Devoto, the Commission confirmed the detention of Mr. Felleri Vogelius, 61 years of age, who was being held; he said that he was editor and owner of the journal Crisis of Buenos Aires. In prison establishment Unit 9 of La Plata, the Commission confirmed the detention of Plutarco Antonio Schaller, pursuant to PEN. He is being brought to trial. He was detained on March 24, 1976, when he was working as a journalist for the newspaper El Independiente.
8 Recently, in December 1979, the newspaper reported that the Editor of the Buenos Aires Herald announced his intention to leave Argentina because of recent death threats received from groups he believed are being protected by the Government.