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Constitution fails to protect freedom of expression

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 22 March 2002 ARTICLE 19 press release:


The Constituent Assembly of East Timor today adopted a new constitution, paving the way for full, official independence. While ARTICLE 19 welcomes this historic development, we note with concern that the freedom of expression provisions in the new constitution are seriously flawed. Problems include the fact that a wide range of expression is not protected and that very broad-ranging restrictions on this fundamental human right are permitted.

The new constitution does protect both freedom of expression and media freedom. However, this protection applies only to information deemed to be "impartial". This limitation is not found in other constitutions or under international law and could seriously undermine the right to freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the constitution permits wide-ranging restrictions on all rights, including freedom of expression, as long as they are based on the vague goal of respect for the constitution or human dignity. International law does permit some restrictions on freedom of expression, but only where these meet the stringent test of being "necessary", for example to protect public order or the rights of others. The Constitution of East Timor could be abused, for example, to pass harsh defamation laws preventing criticism of government officials.

ARTICLE 19 earlier released an analysis of the draft provisions, largely unchanged in the final version, noting these and other weaknesses (1).

Toby Mendel, Head of the ARTICLE 19 Law Programme says:

"It is most unfortunate that East Timor will not have the benefit of proper protection for freedom of expression as it embarks on this crucial next stage in its progress towards full independence and democracy."

1. Copies of the analysis are available on the ARTICLE 19 website, at

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