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"Insult Laws" Still Widespread

From NSS Newsline
Apr. 18, 2007

The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) has launched a campaign against "insult laws" that protect public officials from criticism, and which are still common throughout the world.

Insult laws -- statutes that make it a criminal offence to "insult" the honor or dignity of public officials -- are used in dozens of countries as vehicles to prevent and punish journalistic scrutiny of public records and official actions. Insult laws are a form of criminal defamation which deliberately aim to elevate officials, governments, national symbols and public institutions from criticism and examination by the public and its eyes and ears, the news media.

A study by WPFC revealed that insult laws -- known as desacato laws in Spanish-speaking countries -- exist in scores of countries around the world, in spite of denunciation of such statutes by the press freedom representatives of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its 1994 Annual Report stated that insult laws are clearly incompatible with Article 19 of the UNís 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Vatican Loses Abortion Battle in Portugal, but Pushes on in Poland

Portugal's president yesterday ratified a new law permitting abortion up until the 10th week of pregnancy but recommended a raft of measures that would discourage the procedure in the mostly Roman Catholic country. Parliament voted overwhelmingly last month to legalize abortion, scrapping previous tight restrictions and bringing Portugal in line with most of its European neighbors. The legislation came after a referendum in February that favored the change.

Though he gave his formal consent to the new law, President Anibal Cavaco Silva described abortion as a "social evil to be avoided." He said in a statement that women seeking the procedure should be shown an ultrasound of the fetus, and doctors who oppose abortion should be allowed to counsel them. Women should also be informed about the possibility of their child being adopted and be told about the possible psychological and physical consequences of an abortion, he said.

Meanwhile, The Catholic Church in Poland is pushing the government to have a complete ban on abortion written into the Polish Constitution. It hopes to get the constitutional amendment through quickly in order to thwart any EU directives that might force Poland to liberalize its draconian laws.

Polandís 1993 law allows abortions only in cases of rape, incest and severe fetal damage or if a womanís life and health are endangered, and has cut officially registered terminations to 200 per year.

Terry Sanderson is the vice president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on Apr. 13, 2007. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.

Editor's Note: The spelling and punctuation in this article has been edited to conform to American standards.

Appignani Bioethics Center