CIVICUS

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Panama

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Last updated on 30.03.2019 at 08:20

Panama-Overview

Although not fully enabling, civic space in Panama has long been hospitable enough for civil society to prosper.

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Continued pensioners protests face tear gas

Continued pensioners protests face tear gas

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, pensioners have been demonstrating in Panama since December 2018 to demand the approval of legislation that would increase their pensions.

Peaceful Assembly

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, pensioners have been demonstrating in Panama since December 2018 to demand the approval of legislation that would increase their pensions. On 7th February 2019, the government and Coordinadora Nacional de Jubilados y Pensionados (National Coordinator of Retirees and Pensioners) signed an agreement stating that the Government will pay pensions through an additional bonus. The details of the bonus still have to be developed by the authorities and present it to representatives of the pensioners. However, there are groups who don’t feel represented by this agreement. This led to new protests and clashes with the national police. 

In a separate incident, on 14th February 2019, clashes were reported between the national police and unemployed representatives of the union Federacion Sindical that were demanding jobs to the company Constructora Urbana. While the national police said that they were protecting the private property and safeguarding public order, representatives of the demonstrators claimed that the police provoked them to start the confrontation by pushing protesters and some journalists. 

Expression

On 17th March 2019, supporters of the Congresswoman Yanibel Abrego attacked the photojournalist Mauricio Valenzuela. Valenzuela was covering a political meeting in which Abrego’s supporters were allegedly giving bags of food to people in a rural community in a bid for their support. When the organisers of the meeting realised that Valenzuela was recording the activity, they attacked him destroying his car and camera. 

Association

Although the freedom of association is constitutionally and legally recognised, CSOs often face difficulties in obtaining legal recognition, including complex and lengthy procedures, the need for an attorney, burdensome paperwork, high costs, and discretionary processing of applications.

Although the freedom of association is constitutionally and legally recognised, CSOs often face difficulties in obtaining legal recognition, including complex and lengthy procedures, the need for an attorney, burdensome paperwork, high costs, and discretionary processing of applications. Those organisations which are already registered must comply with burdensome reporting requirements and they lack safeguards against the possibility of an arbitrary revocation of their legal status. Although no legal barriers to advocacy exist, it is not uncommon for advocacy CSOs to face hostile government rhetoric as well as competition from government-organised NGOs, established by or affiliated with politicians and political parties. There are no legal bans on foreign funding, but CSOs have to comply with various regulations against money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism. Workers are allowed to unionise but, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, there are systematic violations of trade union rights in Panama.

Peaceful Assembly

The freedom of peaceful assembly is recognised in the Panamanian Constitution.

The freedom of peaceful assembly is recognised in the Panamanian Constitution. Organisers must give 24 hours prior notice before a public gathering, demonstrations blocking public transit require authorisation, spontaneous assemblies are not permitted, and violent protests are punishable with imprisonment. In practice, road blockades, with and without prior notice, are widespread. Authorities often fail to protect demonstrators and sometimes use excessive force to suppress protests, even peaceful ones, when circulation is disturbed. The increasing militarisation of the security forces is a cause for concern within civil society. A conflict around the construction of two hydroelectric dams that is expected to cause massive flooding and displace dozens of indigenous and peasant communities has been ongoing for years, with several protests repressed by police, especially in early 2013.

Expression

The constitutionally-protected freedoms of expression and of the press are not consistently respected in Panama.

The constitutionally-protected freedoms of expression and of the press are not consistently respected in Panama. Although journalism is not a high-risk occupation in Panama, journalists are subject to occasional threats and attacks. Defamation, libel and slander are still criminal offences and cases are filed regularly, although prison sentences have been eliminated. With the exception of one state-owned television network and one radio station, all media outlets are in private hands. Cross-ownership of print and broadcast media is prohibited; nevertheless, former president Martinelli – who is being prosecuted for corruption – accumulated several newspapers and radio stations, and at least one television outlet. In 2014 the distribution of government advertising got more biased as the elections approached, and cases of surveillance, judicial and fiscal harassment, censorship, and self-censorship multiplied as tension increased. Panama participates in the Open Government Partnership and passed an Access to Information Law in 2002; however, actual access to public information remained limited due to frequent official denials of requests and a lack of proactive transparency. An autonomous National Authority of Transparency and Access to Information was created in 2013 following recommendations to comply with best practice standards. No restrictions exist on Internet access or content.