Constant repression of protests in Panama
In August 2017, during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Panama, Rita Ramos, a student activist, was arrested for protesting Pence’s meeting with President Juan Carlos Varela. According to reports, Ramos was detained for allegedly injuring a police officer.
In a separate incident, teachers organised a series of protests between July and August 2017, demanding better working conditions, including better road access to the indigenous region of Ngäbe-Buglé. Repression of the protests was reported at least twice in the two months; for example, on 20th July six teachers were arrested and approximately 20 injured at a protest.
On 9th August 2017, police officers repressed a protest organised by taxi drivers over Uber. Police officers used excessive force to stop the protest and five people were arrested. Demonstrators reported that a group of policemen tore one car’s door off just to arrest the driver.
Mining company Cerro Quema sued Basilio Perez, an environmental activist, for damages in compensation of 40,000 USD. This decision was taken after Perez sued the company in 2014 for violating environmental law. The company, however, argued that Perez had violated a confidentiality agreement he signed while working for the company.
Intercontinental Cry reported the criminalisation of environmental activists in Panama, including the recent case of Manolo Miranda, Toribio García and Clementina Perez. The report stated that the three indigenous leaders are currently facing trial over a protest that took place in 2015 where demonstrators blocked the entrance to a damn. The activists potentially face up to two years in prison for “causing delays and financial losses to the company”. They were schedule to face trial on 18th August.
In a positive development, a new draft law introduced in parliament aims to improve public workers’ union rights. The initiative is part of a dialogue between the government, workers and the International Labour Organization.
As reported on the Monitor, the U.S. Department of Treasury has included Abdul Waked, a main shareholder of two main news outlets in Panama, in its Specially Designated Nationals list. The U.S. government decided not to renew the operating license of the two newspapers after the last one had expired. The Inter-American Press Association requested that the United States reconsider its decision, taking into account that it affects freedom of expression and labour rights in the country, stating that:
"This sanction damages the freedom of the press, the right of citizens to access plural and diverse information, as well as the source of income of 240 families, putting in risk the sustainability of the media that the economic restrictions that derive from this measure..." (Translated from Spanish)
In addition, Monitor research partner REDLAD has published a statement with concerns over this decision, declaring that such actions represent:
"... a serious injury to the freedom of the press in Panama and the right to information of citizens".