November 14, 2011
Under international law, desacato laws grant an unjustified, special protection to public officials and therefore limit free expression and must be repealed.

(Washington, DC) – Ecuador should repeal insult laws (desacato) and all norms that criminalize defamation of public officials and institutions, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 14, 2011, Human Rights Watch submitted a joint amicus brief (Spanish) with the Center for Freedom of Expression and Information of the University of Palermo (Argentina) before the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, arguing that desacato norms violate Ecuador’s international human rights obligations.

“Under international law, desacato laws grant an unjustified, special protection to public officials and therefore limit free expression and must be repealed,” the brief says. “Such special protection should not exist given that, in a democracy, public officials should be subject to greater scrutiny and criticism, an essential element to promote debate about public interest matters.”

The brief was submitted in a case brought before the Constitutional Court in May by the Ecuadorian nongovernmental organization Fundamedios. The case challenges article 230 of the Ecuadorian Criminal Code – under which anyone who “offends” the president or other government authorities may be sentenced to up to three months in prison for offending officials and up to two years for offending the president.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for November 16.

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