Criminal Defamation Laws
“Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”
– Joint Declaration on Criminal Defamation by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (2002)
Around the world, criminal defamation laws remain one of the easiest and most effective ways to silence the press. The personal and professional consequences resulting from a criminal conviction, not to mention to threat of imprisonment or having to pay a hefty criminal fine, are a recipe for fear and self-censorship. It’s no wonder that criminal defamation laws are frequently employed by the powerful to squelch critical coverage, hide embarrassing or uncomfortable information, or silence investigations into financial, ethical and professional wrongdoing. The endgame is nearly always the same: the protection of economic and political interests, the preservation of power and in some cases the avoidance of criminal liability.
IPI is leading a global campaign to repeal criminal defamation laws wherever they remain on the books.
Our position is clear: All criminal defamation laws should be removed and replaced with civil defamation laws that meet international standards on freedom of expression and that do not, in practice, hinder the media’s right to report on matters of public interest.
Through our public statements, campaigns, and missions we encourage governments to abolish outdated criminal legislation and to provide necessary safeguards against the abuse of civil defamation laws. At the same time, we promote the importance of self-regulatory bodies as an alternative method of redressing damage done to reputation.
Read more about our advocacy work in Europe.
Read more about our advocacy work in the Caribbean.
Read more about international standards on the freedom of expression and the protection of reputation.