SANTIAGO – The Chilean Senate on Tuesday approved a modified version of the so-called “Gag Law,” excluding journalists from sanctions that otherwise would be imposed on leakers of secret information, after complaints from Chilean national journalism award winners who criticized the unmodified rule as “censorship.”
Participating in the modification were Chilean Attorney General Javiera Blanco and National Prosecutor Jorge Abbott, who – along with lawmakers – agreed to remove journalists facing possible punishment for leaking information on judicial procedures.
With 29 votes in favor and 3 abstentions, the upper house approved the modifications to the law, which now will exclude journalists but will levy a fine on those found to have violated it and who do not meet the requirements.
In a communique, four national journalism award winners in recent days said that “the Senate ... has tried in recent weeks to surreptitiously introduce modifications to the penal code that seriously harm the foundations of any regime that ... calls itself democratic.”
“The upper house has proposed, in a strangely unanimous manner, two measures that seriously work against freedom of expression and the press and the access of citizens to information,” those professionals said.
All of the award winners are the authors of numerous books and essays concerning the practice of journalism and stand out for their defense of freedom of expression during the country’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
During the discussion in the Chilean Congress, Abbott said that the modifications to exclude journalists eliminate the doubts about the extent of the “Gag Law.”
The new draft stipulates that public officials participating in an investigation, and having access to the relevant documents, will be obligated to keep the investigative proceedings secret.
Anyone found not to have adhered to that restriction will be punished with a fine of up to 200 UTM (some $13,000) and/or three years and one day in prison.