CIVICUS

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Panama

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Last updated on 28.05.2018 at 08:13

Panama-Overview

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

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Protest in Colon ends with 5 injured and 35 arrested

Protest in Colon ends with 5 injured and 35 arrested

A protest organised by Frente Amplio por Colon (FAC) ended with clashes with the police and 35 people detained and around 5 injured.

Peaceful Assembly

On 13th March 2018, the organisation Frente Amplio por Colon (FAC) called for a protest of the rising cost of living in the city of Colon, as well as the deteriorating security situation and health care and infrastructure problems. In the morning, the protest went as planned, but in the afternoon, several acts of vandalism were reported. Provocateurs allegedly began attacking police officers, burning tires, and burning down a building in town. Police intervened, and 35 people were arrested and five reported injured.

In April 2018, several protests took place in the community of Kuna Nega near the capital city. For instance, on 17th April citizens blocked the streets to protest the lack of water services in the community. In a different protest, the same community gathered to condemn the building of a new road that would pass through their community and affect houses. Police officers intervened to unblock the road. On 2nd May, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Public Works met with the community to explain the construction project and make assurances that no home would be impacted. 

Since mid-April, the biggest workers’ union in the country, Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Construcción y Similares (Suntracs), has held a series of protests in the context of the ongoing negotiations over a new collective labour agreement with the Panamanian Chamber of Construction. No cases of violence or prevention and disruption of the protests have been reported thus far.

Association

The Office of the Ombudsman reported that five activists supporting an amendment to Act 566 on creating a more dignified health system have been receiving threats to their physical safety. The names and details of the threats have not been revealed.

On 15th March, activist Lucy Cordoba reported that she had been harassed for several months. Last year, unidentified men broke into her house causing several damages, and most recently she was sued for an alleged scam, and the bank where she has her accounts notified her that the accounts could not be kept open. Cordoba believes this is in consequence of her work supporting an indigenous person in a land dispute against the National Authority of Land Management. 

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.

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