Legal Challenges for Freedom of Expression in Panama | Freedom House

Legal Challenges for Freedom of Expression in Panama

Washington

Freedom House condemns attempts to re-criminalize defamation of high level public figures in Panama as well as the conviction of two journalists on libel charges, and strongly urges the government to adhere to international standards by decriminalizing all forms of libel and defamation.
 
Last week, interim Attorney General Giuseppe Bonossi petitioned the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the second paragraph of Article 192 of the Penal Code, which decriminalizes libel in Panama when those affected are senior public officials.
 
In a separate incident, on September 28, 2010 the Court of Appeals reversed two lower court rulings acquitting journalists Sabrina Bacal and Justino Gonzalez of TVN Channel 2 News, causing such an outcry from local media outlets and human rights defenders that President Ricardo Martinelli was forced to issue a full pardon this week. The two were facing libel charges stemming from a 2005 investigation in which they alleged that officials from the Department of Immigration were participating in human trafficking. The journalists were sentenced to one year in prison and banned from exercising their profession for that period of time.
 
“These attacks against freedom of expression instill fear and encourage self-censorship among journalists and the media,” said Viviana Giacaman, Senior Program Manager for Latin America at Freedom House. “Freedom House urges the Panamanian Supreme Court of Justice to reject the Deputy Attorney General’s petition and the Panamanian government to remain vigilant in protecting this fundamental right.”
 
Panama is ranked Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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