Peaceful Assembly

On 22nd October 2019, students and employees of the University of Panama marched to the National Assembly to demand the removal of two articles from a legislative proposal to reform Panama’s Political Constitution. The articles, protesters claimed, would affect the functioning of higher education and reduce universities’ autonomy. Over 10,000 people took part in the peaceful march in heavy rain. A confrontation ensued when a group climbed over the security fences and attempted to enter the National Assembly to escape the rain. Anti-riot police used pepper spray to disperse the protesters. After a meeting with legislators, the University’s rector, Eduardo Flores, announced that the two articles would be removed.

Even with the withdrawal, protests against the reform have continued. On 24th October 2019, students at the University of Panama held roadblocks to protest the approval of the reform package. After eight hours of blockades, the students decided to suspend the demonstration following a meeting with rector Flores.

On 30th October 2019 over 50 protesters were detained, among them 6 minors. The police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators, who in turn chanted, “we are more and we are not afraid”.

Expression

On 7th October 2019, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) presented a report on Panama at its 75th General Assembly. Although libel and slander have been decriminalised in some cases, the classification persists for cases involving private individuals and some public authorities. Penalties range from six to eighteen months in prison. In the analysis presented by IAPA, the judicial system has been abused, with newspapers such as La Prensa and its journalists sued ten times since March 2019 by former President Ricardo Martinelli for alleged crimes against honour. These prosecutions result in journalists investing time and money for defence in court, and potentially also generate self-censorship, IAPA highlighted.

The IAPA invited the Panamanian authorities to repeal the norms that maintain libel and slander in the criminal jurisdiction, preventing such lawsuits from being used as tools to intimidate journalists and close media outlets.