Reporters Without Borders accuses Chile’s military justice system of violating freedom of information by pressuring the staff of the political weekly The Clinic to reveal their sources for a series of reports about alleged corruption and embezzlement involving many army officers.
The Clinic owner and legal representative Pablo Dittborn, publisher Patricio Fernández, editor Andrea Moletto and Mauricio Weibel, the reporter who wrote the stories, were summoned for questioning at the start of October by Rodrigo Acevedo, the military judge in charge of investigating the leaks leading to the exposure of the so-called “Milicogate” scandal.
However, Chile’s military courts have not been empowered to investigate cases involving civilians since 2011 and, in theory, are limited to handling cases directly linked to the armed forces.
Officially, the magazine’s owner and staff members were just questioned as witnesses but in practice they were pressured to reveal their sources. The confidentiality of the media’s sources is nonetheless guaranteed by Chile’s press law (Ley de Prensa) and by rulings on this subject issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which Chile is required to respect.
“This violation of the confidentiality of sources and attempted intimidation by the Chilean military justice system are unacceptable and constitute a grave violation of media freedom and democracy in Chile,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Latin America bureau. “We urge the Chilean authorities to respect the press law and Chile’s international obligations.”
Weibel’s reports exposing the Milicogate scandal were published in The Clinic in August. They revealed the existence of a major ring involving officers and other military personnel who allegedly embezzled millions of dollars in public funds from 2010 to 2014 and spent the money on holidays, parties, horses and casinos.
The government has so far said nothing publicly about the corruption scandal or the methods used by the military justice system in an attempt to hush it up. The government’s silence is all the more worrying because it is the first time that Chile’s military justice system has interrogated journalists in this manner.
Weibel was given police protection in 2012 and 2013 after he wrote a book containing revelations from the 1973-1990 military dictatorship’s secret archives. At the time, he received many threats, his home was broken into and his laptops were stolen.
Chile is ranked 43rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.