(Washington) - In advance of the May 3 observance of World Press Freedom Day, United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed optimism over the abolition of criminal defamation and insult laws.
“This week, as the Helsinki Commission examines the state of press freedom in the OSCE region, it is heartening to see progress in an otherwise bleak landscape,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “The Helsinki Commission has long tracked the use and abuse of criminal defamation and insult laws – laws that were a favorite tool of political oppression by communist regimes in the past and of repressive regimes today. I have consistently and strongly urged leaders in post-communist countries to repeal these laws and thereby give concrete substance to their rhetorical commitment to free speech and a free press.”
“Last week, Slovakia took another step forward in implementing the reform mandate Slovak voters have given to the Dzurinda government. I commend the Slovak Parliament for voting to repeal Article 156(3) of the Penal Code, a provision which, if enforced, would have resulted in people being prosecuted merely for expressing their opinions.”
In June 2002, the Slovak Parliament repealed Articles 102 and 103 of the Penal Code. Two other criminal defamation/insult provisions, Articles 154 and 206 of the Penal Code, remain on the books in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic, which inherited the same criminal statutes upon the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Articles 154, 156, and 206 are still in force and individuals continue to face charges under those Articles.
The United States Senate is expected to begin debate shortly on the Protocols of Accession to enlarge NATO – a proposal to include Slovakia, Romania and five other OSCE participating States in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
“I hope the momentum in the Romanian Parliament to genuinely reform the Penal Code would continue unabated. Repealing – and not just tinkering with – Romania’s plethora of criminal defamation and insult laws would be a great manifestation of Romania’s commitment to real reform.”
Criminal defamation and insult laws are actively used against those who criticize their governments in a number of other OSCE participating States, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
Additional material concerning freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the media are available on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.