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Event | Defamation: Global Perspectives

Friday 15 June 2018 - 4:16pm

Parallel Event to the 38th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council

20 June 2018, 13:30 – 15:00                        

Room XI, Palais des Nations, United Nations at Geneva

Opening remarks and dedication                

Andrew Caruana Galizia, son of Daphne Caruana Galizia, assassinated Maltese journalist


David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur Freedom of Expression

Dina Meza, Investigative journalist, President, PEN Honduras

Guatam Bhatia, Defamation lawyer, PEN Delhi

Dr Danson Kayhana, Makarere University, PEN Uganda

Jonathan Price, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers

Despite the growing international consensus that criminal defamation infringes the fundamental right to freedom of expression, prosecutions of journalists and other writers under criminal defamation and insult laws continue in a wide range of countries. These laws are used to silence writers, journalists and others, and often carry heavy penalties, including imprisonment and political disenfranchisement. This form of state-sanctioned silencing is fundamentally incompatible with freedom of expression and is used deliberately and systematically to crack down on dissident voices.  Moreover, criminal defamation is used to prevent criticism of those in authority with a strong ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and freedom of expression at large.

In most of Asia, and much of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, defamation is in some circumstances a crime, as it is in Canada and in most of the EU countries. Criminal defamation laws are certainly only part of the problem. The abuse of civil defamation laws can cause an equally harmful chilling effect. This is particularly the case when fines are not capped in law, allowing plaintiffs to request exorbitant sums.

Important developments relating to the decriminalization of defamation, notably the landmark 2014 Konaté judgment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have concluded that criminal defamation laws should not include custodial sentences. In the wake of this decision numerous African countries have moved to decrimalise defamation. However major challenges persist globally both in terms of criminal defamation and broad civil defamation laws which carry crippling fines. One emerging area of concern is the increased use of defamation claims in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) which are routinely taken against investigative journalists to prevent them from reporting on corruption and human rights abuses.

PEN International and our network of PEN Centres around the world has been working for the repeal of criminal defamation laws through research, advocacy and supporting strategic litigation. Join us on the side of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss:

  • What is the impact of criminal defamation laws regionally on freedom of expression, press freedom and investigative journalism?
  • What progress has been made in the decriminalisation of defamation?
  • What are the emerging challenges around defamation laws and how can they been combatted? Specifically within the context of litigation, what can be done in relation to SLAPPs and their detrimental effect on the work of human rights defenders?

We kindly ask you to register to this event by RSVP by the deadline of Friday 15 June to the email address: