Tallinn, April 16, 2000
The Estonian Newspaper Association expresses concern over the proposed
new penal code in Estonia that would establish a two-tier set of
punitive measures on libel, offering special protection for high
officials. This would endanger freedom of expression.
The draft of the new penal code (Draft Law No 119) states that
the sanctions for libelling high state officials are stricter than
for libelling an ordinary individual.
Article 132 states that for libelling a person the punishment is
a fine or an arrest. If carried by the media, the same act would
be punished by a fine, arrest or imprisonment of up to one year.
Article 254 says that for libelling the speaker of parliament,
president, prime minister, national court chairman, legal chancellor,
state auditor, army chief of staff or the commander-in-chief, the
punishment is a fine, arrest or a one-year imprisonment. When carried
out in the media, the same act would be punished by a fine or imprisonment
of up to three years.
This way, high officials are offered more protection than ordinary
people. Article 254 is listed in the chapter on crimes against the
state. The explanatory memorandum going with the draft law says
punishments for libelling high officials should be stricter because
an act of libel against them would also mean an attack against the
The Estonian Newspaper Association has conveyed its protest to
the parliament’s legal affairs committee, which has promised to
invite us for consultations. Draft law No 119 has passed its first
reading in parliament. The date for the second reading has not been
Another aspect of Estonia’s legislation causing concern from the
point of view of freedom of expression relates to the existing Criminal
Code. Article 132-1 provides for punishment for disseminating false
or discreditable information about candidates for political office
( for president, parliament or local municipal council). The article
provides for a fine or arrest for this act.
This clause is also against freedom of expression and should be
deleted from the law.
Overall, the issues of libel and defamation should be removed from
the criminal code, and be applied only under the civil code. The
Estonian press has been experiencing a chilling effect on the issue
since journalist Enno Tammer was declared guilty in 1996 under the
cirminal code for degrading the honour and dignity of a politician’s
wife. Tammer has since taken the case to the Strasbourg court.
The Estonian Newspaper Association has information about cases
in which reporters have withdrawn their statements or retracted
a story after having been warned of the “Tammer scenario”.