RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION
A. Legal provisions
233. The Constitution of the Dominican Republic, at Article 8(6), provides that "every person may, without being subject to prior censorship, freely state his or her thinking by the written word or by any other means of expression, either graphic or oral." This right is predicated on not assaulting the dignity or morality of persons or the public order or the moral conventions of society.107
234. Article 13 of the American Convention establishes freedom of expression, indicating that:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.108
235. The Convention also states that the right to freedom of expression cannot be subject to prior censorship and cannot be restricted by indirect ways or means, such as abuse of official or private controls of newsprint, radio frequencies, or any other means, aimed at impeding the communication of ideas and opinions.109
B. Freedom of expression
236. Freedom of expression, dissemination of thought, and freedom of press are generally respected in the Dominican Republic. This is contributed to by the existence of a large number of radio stations, television towers, national daily newspapers, and periodical publications, and growing numbers of users of the Internet.
237. During its on-site visit, the Commission met with representatives of the press and television, who indicated that despite the broad array of information media in the Dominican Republic, the freedom of press was limited by the attitude of public officials of not wanting to provide the data requested of them, and on some occasions they went so far as to prohibit the entry of reporters into hospitals, prisons, and other official places, with no legal reason for doing so.110 As denounced to the Commission, this was the so-called "culture of concealment," and "unlawful appropriation of public information."
238. According to complaints lodged with the Commission, in 1996 journalist Juan Bolívar Díaz suffered judicial persecution111 in the wake of the publication of his book, "Trauma Electoral," in which he sets forth an account of the irregularities that marked the May 1994 presidential elections. This persecution took the form of a trial in absentia before the Seventh Criminal Court of the National District, which convicted him and sentenced him to six months in prison for defamation and slander. The decision sparked a major public protest. Mr. Díaz appealed and was released in late 1996.112 The Commission has insisted that freedom of expression cannot be fully realized in the climate of fear and insecurity that is brought about by the persecution of journalists.
239. In January 1997, the Government ordered that 15 interview programs and talk shows be shut down on five radio stations, Novel 93, Radio Bonao, Radio 91, Onda del Yuna, and Latina 88.7, in the city of Bonao in the Cibao valley. The official communication stated that the programs were suspended because their producers lacked authorization from the National Commission of Public Entertainments and Radiophony.113
240. The Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas noted that according to the applicable provisions of law, its members and the graduates of schools of social communication did not have to be announcers to produce radio and television programs, nor did they have to have an official card issued by the Commission on Entertainments. The Colegio de Periodistas indicated that the acts of the Government violated Law 6132 on free expression and dissemination of thought. Two days later the authorities allowed the programs to resume broadcasting.
241. In March 1997, the Attorney General of the Republic described as pernicious the journalistic account that overstated the crime situation in the country, and threatened to enforce the Code for the Protection of Minors to prevent sensationalist and harmful publications.114 The Commission has not received any information according to which this was done.115
242. The newspapers freely reflect independent points of view, and those of the opposition. Nonetheless, as the Commission was told, although journalists work in a relatively tolerant environment, there is a certain self-censorship for fear of reprisals, which range from loss of influence to loss of employment.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
243. During the press conference that the Commission gave on the conclusion of its on-site visit, in June 1997, it indicated that the media revealed the existence of a lively debate, and were fully free to exchange ideas on the consolidation, expansion, and strengthening of human rights institutions and provisions.
244. In effect, the Commission has observed that freedom of expression and thought are respected, in general, in the Dominican Republic.
245. Access to information is an essential requirement for individuals to be able to learn of and respond to actions taken in the public and private sectors. Therefore, the Commission recommends that the Dominican state adopt measures that make possible a broad exchange of public information, including the state offices forwarding information to the communications media on issues that affect the population.
107 See also Law No. 6132, on Expression and Dissemination of Thought, of December 15, 1962, Gaceta Oficial No. 8721.
108 Article 13 of the Convention reads in its entirety as follows:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.
2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure:
a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or
b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.
3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.
4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.
5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.
109 Article 13(2) and (3) of the American Convention.
110 Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia.
111 During its on-site visit, the Commission met with Mr. Juan Bolívar Díaz, Director of the news program Tele-Antillas Uno + Uno.
112 The IACHR opened a file on this case, No. 11,644, in June 1996.
113 Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas.
114 Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia.