CIVICUS

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Panama

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Last updated on 28.08.2018 at 16:52

Panama-Overview

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

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Rising electricity prices spark protests

Rising electricity prices spark protests

Starting on 10th July 2018, students of the National University of Panama held a protest for three days to voice their opposition to a rise in electricity prices.

Peaceful Assembly

Starting on 10th July 2018, students of the National University of Panama held a protest for three days to voice their opposition to a rise in electricity prices. The protest included roadblocks, which led to clashes with police officers who used tear gas to disperse the protest. No arrests were reported and after three days of protests, the President Juan Carlos Varela announced the reversal of the decision to hike electricity prices.

On the same day, a group of parents from Victoriano Lorenzo public school in the city of David blocked one of the city’s main roads demanding the construction of more buildings in the school. It was reported that police officers forcibly removed the blockade. No other incidents were reported.

A national farmers’ protest took place on 8th August 2018, to reject excessive imports of agricultural goods. Despite a strong police presence where the farmers blocked the roads, these blockades were removed when a Cabinet member suggested a meeting between the farmers and the President. 

Association

As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, activist Lucy Cordoba, was sued for an alleged scam. Cordoba stated that this charges are a consequence of her work supporting an indigenous person in a land claim. On her Twitter account, Cordoba reported she was arrested on 27th July 2018. In this case, the activist linked the detention to her work against child exploitation in the region of Bocas Del Toro, where she has been reporting for more than a year. She was released soon after the arrest. 

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.