CIVICUS

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Panama

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Last updated on 28.01.2019 at 15:35

Panama-Overview

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

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 Six people arrested during clashes with the police

Six people arrested during clashes with the police

Clashes between the police and a group of farmers were reported on 18th December 2018 in the town of Divisa after a failed negotiation meeting between the farmers and the Ministers of Industry, Security and Agriculture.

Peaceful Assembly

Clashes between the police and a group of farmers were reported on 18th December 2018 in the town of Divisa after a failed negotiation meeting between the farmers and the Ministers of Industry, Security and Agriculture. The unrest took place after talks between the farmers and officials broke down. Ministers decided to close the negotiation meeting without reaching an agreement, prompting the farmers to try to prevent the Ministers from leaving the town of Divisa. In a bid to extend the talks, farmers protested by blocking the official's cars. In response, the police forcibly opened the path for the cars, leading to the clashes between the two sides. Three days later, six farmers were arrested and charged with damages to public property. Farmers have been on negotiations with the government for several months for what they considered excessive imports.  

In a separate incident, on 14th December 2018, a group of elders demonstrated to demand the approval of legislation that would increase their pensions. When the group headed to a street to block a main road, the police unsuccessfully tried to block them.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Panama in mid-January 2019, a small group of LGBTI activists held a symbolic ‘kissing-protest’ in front of a church that the Pope was visiting. 

Expression

Journalist Ligia Arreaga was arrested in Panama on 2nd January 2019. Arreaga was reporting on the alleged abuses committed against the farmers of the city of Chiriqui after the multinational food company Del Monte arrived. The journalist explained that she was trying to interview a local judge, but the judge deemed her actions as violating her privacy and ordered the police to arrest her. 24 hours later, the journalist, Arreaga was released. As reported on the Monitor, in 2016, Arreaga was forced to leave the country after several years of harassment and threats for her work protecting the environment from multinational companies and hydroelectric projects.

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.