Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Costa Rica

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 3 May 2002
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Costa Rica, 3 May 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/487c5244c.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With the murder of a journalist and a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that constituted a warning, Costa Rica lost its status as a regional "model" of respect for press freedom.

The killing of a journalist, Parmenio Medina, in early July 2001 was an unfortunate first for Costa Rica, which for nearly 20 years has been spared political violence. The murder was a signal to all his fellow investigative journalists. In another unprecedented event, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had to urgently intervene to order suspension of the application of a local court's severe penalty for publishing criticism of a government official. The penalty was seen as especially unacceptable because Costa Rica is the headquarters of the inter-American court.

The court episode spurred journalists to seek a change in the law and 200 of them, in a manifesto entitled "No nos dejan decir" ("They won't let us speak"), denounced the self-censorship they were forced to practise because of threats of legal action. On several occasions, they noted that the penal code provided for imprisonment or very heavy fines for press offences such as "damaging the reputation" of someone or "insulting a government official."

"We are obliged to hold back some material of public interest so as to avoid prosecution which, in a democratic system, is not right for journalists and citizens," they said. Under existing law, it is up to journalists to prove their innocence.

A journalist killed

The well-known presenter of a satirical radio programme – "La Patada" ("The Kick"), on Radio Monumental – Parmenio Medina, was murdered near his home on 7 July 2001. A mystery gunman fire four shots before fleeing in a vehicle containing a number of accomplices. Police said it was done by professional killers. In October 1999, Medina had spoken of irregularities in the management of the Catholic station Radio María de Guadalupe. A year later, he reported seeing Mínor Calvo, the priest who founded the station, with a young man in a park frequented by homosexuals. In May 2001, despite threats of legal action, he made new disclosures about Calvo. A few days later, shots were fired at his house. The Colombian-born Medina had lived in Costa Rica since 1969 and had presented La Patada for the past 28 years. His murder, the first political killing for many years in Costa Rica, which has no army, shocked the public. Each month, on the same date he was killed, civil society organisations have rallied to demand justice for the crime. The daily Prensa Libre, quoting a legal source, reported on 9 August that Medina was killed because he was investigating money-laundering activities by a large drug-smuggling cartel. But in early October, the head of the judicial police, Linneth Saborío, said no serious clues had been found despite a great deal of effort.

Pressure and obstruction

A local court agreed on 4 October 2001 to the demand by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to suspend implementation of a decision against journalist Mauricio Herrera and the daily La Nación until the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had ruled on the case. Herrera had been found guilty of libel on 12 November 1999 and fined 430,000 colons (1,500 euros), while his paper was ordered to pay 60 million colons (200,000 euros) in damages. The verdict also said his name should be put on a list of criminals. Herrera had reported in a series of articles in La Nación in 1995 that a Costa Rican diplomat in Europe, Felix Przedborski, had been mentioned by the European press as being involved in corruption. In late January 2001, the newspaper took the case to the IACHR, which asked for suspension of the sentence on grounds that it would irreparably harm Herrera's reputation. The Costa Rican judiciary at first refused to follow the IACHR recommendation, so the Commission then took the matter to the inter-American court, whose rulings are mandatory. The two bodies are part of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

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