FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION
A. Applicable International Law
The pertinent provision of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man is:
Article IV. Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes:
Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concludes:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of this choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
a. For respect of the rights and reputations of others;
b. For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.
B. Applicable Domestic Law
General Decree A-11 recognizes the freedoms of opinion and press.
Article 6. In cases of doubt with regard to the stipulations of the preceding article, the press and radio stations shall be obligated to consult with the President prior to publishing or transmitting the item in question.
Article 7. Foreign publications with content related to the legal authorities may be published or transmitted only with the knowledge and approval of the Prime Minister.
Article 8. The press and radio are not permitted to disseminate items contrary to the law, public order or good behavior.
Article 9. The press and radio shall not disseminate unverified items whose implicit or explicit aim is to harm the good name of individuals or groups.
Article 10. The Prime Minister shall supervise the compliance with these instructions.
Article 11. Violations of these instructions by the press or radio may result in the suspension or revocation of the offender’s license. The above penalty will not be imposed until the alleged offender has been heard. The hearing shall be held at the place of the alleged offense and the alleged offender is entitled to the services of legal counsel.
The media guidelines are particularly worrisome to the Commission in the following respects: a regimen of prior censorship is established by the decree; the media are obligated to comply with the State´s instructions on such matters; the penalties for violating the instructions are determined by the executive branch without the accused being entitled to legal recourse; and the determination of what constitutes national security or ¨the legal authorities¨ shall be made not by an independent body, but by the authorities themselves. The Commission feels that as presently constituted these instructions like the May 7, 1983 Decree, constitute a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression.
In conversations with the Government, officials assured the special commission that Suriname enjoyed complete and total freedom of the press. Major Doudel, the head of the National Information Agency (NVD), told the Commission that the Government’s media policy is based on the idea of national liberation or ¨developmental news.¨ The standard supposedly used by the Surinamese Government is the recent declaration of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calling for ¨a new, more just and more effective world information and communications order.¨
The NVD, whose personnel are all military appointees, evaluates media performance and its control and trains journalist. According to Major Doudel, ¨The concept of media is to further serve the economic and political interests of the country…. We want to protect the people for national interests and for the ideological struggle.¨
The IACHR´s special commission found both a formal and an informal system of censorship in the country.
Most of the news available to the non-official media is provided by the Suriname News Agency, the Government news organization. According to NVD officials, the media must receive foreign news from press agencies free of Western influence. SNA, which relies on Prensa Latina, Tass, ANN, the Nicaraguan news agency, Inter-press and Agence France Presse, has a monopoly on all foreign news distribution. The Commission verified that the media cannot broadcast or print news about Suriname from abroad. This is especially true of any news broadcast over Radio Netherlands.
To print or broadcast news stories originating from abroad, the media must have the Prime Minister personally stamp each article and sign his approval. On domestic matters, where an editor is unsure whether covering approval. On domestic matters, where and editor is unsure whether covering the issue violates the instructions, he or she receives approval from the NVD to publish or broadcast the article. Consequently, radio stations and newspapers are severely reducing or eliminating their news services because of the all-encompassing application of the concept of ¨national security.¨
Historically, all Surinamese media have been subsidized by the Government through paid advertisements. Prior to 1980, this policy was to encourage a diversification of news sources within the country. Since the disruption of the constitutional order and the re-opening of selected media, the Commission has been able to verify that the Government exerts considerable pressure on those media outlets most heavily subsidized by the Government. Both print and electronic media print official news stories and accede to the military’s warnings not to print or broadcast stories concerning certain national events as a matter of course for fear of financial hardship or the more ext5reme pressure of physical harassment.
Newspapers also face the additional burden of a shortage of newsprint. For both political and economic reasons, the Government severely restricts the quantity of newsprint and film materials needed for newspaper production. Government control over the behavior of newspapers is also enhanced by restricting licenses for the importation of newsprint to three-month intervals. A direct result of this is the drastic reduction of pages and papers printed compared to circulation before 1980.
Television is also regulated by the instructions. The only television station in the country is government-owned and operated. While in the past there were independent journalists on the Government channel, today none exists. While news sources are more varied for television than other media, the NVD strictly controls and edits the news. All items concerning events in Poland and Afghanistan, for instance, are cut out of news broadcast.
The most prevalent form of censorship the Commission found was self-censorship. Owners, editors and journalist frequently remarked that the all-encompassing restrictions put upon them force their news operations to purposely avoid covering or commenting on events of any national importance. A climate of fear and intimidation concerning the media prevails. To avoid at all costs any confrontations with the military authorities, the media simply censors itself.
Prior to the special commission’s visit, Prime Minister Wim Odenhout chided the press on its timidity, encouraging the media to cover events more boldly and to resume the printing of editorials. Some newspapers began rather indirectly to criticize the National Assembly process in editorials but these soon stopped.
The distrust by the unofficial media of the Government’s intentions seems borne out by the case of Rev. Sebastiano Mulder, the editor of the Catholic weekly, Omhoog. The church newsletters De Kerbode of the Moravian Church and Omhoog of the Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo sometimes speak about social and human rights issues. On February 10, 1985, Rev. Mulder printed an editorial severely criticizing ¨Operation Clean Sweep¨, a Government action to deport several thousand Guayanese immigrants. According to De West, Rev. Mulder was summoned the following day by the Attorney General for a hearing over his press coverage of the deportation of the Guyanese nationals. In an official communiqué issued by NVD, it was reported that further possible steps would be considered against the editor. On the morning of February 12, 1985, Rev. Mulder was interrogated for several hours by the authorities concerning his remarks about the methods by which the immigrants were deported.
After the Omhoog editorial appeared, the Moravian newslatter De Kerbode also criticized the Government’s treatment of the illegal aliens. Consequently, Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse in a press conference held on February 16, 1985 and reported by De Ware Tijd charged that both church newsletters were involved in ¨destabilization¨ and that ¨counter-revolutionaries¨ were at work in the criticism of the Government’s actions. Later, Rev. Mulder was again brought in for questioning and subsequently released.
The Commission notes that although Suriname has media guidelines emphasizing the media´s duties and obligations to the State, there are no substantial parallel guarantees concerning the freedom of expression.
Despite the re-opening of the press, a generalized fear and intimidation of the population still exists, albeit at lower levels than reported in the IACHR´s 1983 report. That climate prevents the full exercise of freedom of expression. This matter was repeatedly mentioned to the special commission by Surinamese citizens from all walks of life.
Another area of concern in terms of free thought and expression has to do with the University of Suriname, the public and only institution of higher learning in the country.
The special commission heard testimony concerning the situation at the University, which was closed in December 1982 and was subsequently reopened the following month.
The Rector of the University is appointed by the Council of Ministers, who, in addition, approve the appointment of professors at the university. While the university is ostensibly autonomous, its budget must be approved by the National Government. In addition, the Steering Committee, which guides matters of curriculum and the appointment of professors, admits it acts in accordance with certain political principles. The special commission heard that all heads of faculties are chosen by February 25th Movement members.
On March 14, 1984, the Government established a commission to develop a plan of reorganization and administration for the university. A little later, the commission was altered to include two military members, who subsequently intimidated the remaining members who were independent. Finally, Commander Bouterse personally ordered the University Commission to discontinue its work and sent representatives of the military to the university to convey the message to its members.
In a conversation with the Steering Committee chaired by Dr. Ernie Bruinings, the special commission was told that the university has 70 full-time professors and about 150 part-time teachers. In all, there are 7 professors and 200 students left the university. Most of the latter were students of medicine. He said that some left because they could earn more money elsewhere. The majority, however, in his view, left because they were ¨counterrevolutionaries.¨ He affirmed that the Steering Committee’s policy actions are guided by ¨progressive¨ political principles. He insisted that there was freedom of thought and expression among faculty members and students but recognized that the full time faculty in particular by and large adhered to ¨revolutionary¨ thought.