Intimidation of journalists and women's protests in Panama
During a television programme aired on 28th April 2021, lawyer Roniel Ortiz said that his legal team would “attack” digital media Foco. He also referenced the situation of journalists in Mexico, where he said reporters are killed for “meddling in things that don’t regard them”. Ortiz has worked in the legal defence of former president Ricardo Martinelli against accusations of engaging in corruption and espionage while in office. Press organisations Fórum de Periodistas, Colegio Nacional de Periodismo and Asociación Panameña de Radiodifusión condemned Ortiz’s comments, which they viewed as direct threats.
In a separate development, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) included Panama among a list of countries in the Americas where journalists have faced attacks while covering social protests. They also highlighted that Panama has sought to sanction the dissemination of what the authorities consider “fake”, “reserved” or “fear-inducing” news. The organisation’s report was made at the conclusion of its mid-year meeting in April 2021.
On 19th April 2021, feminist groups protested against a Supreme Court decision which found governing party legislator Arquesio Arias not guilty of sexual assault and “lascivious acts”. The lawmaker was accused of rape by two women, one of whom was a minor at the time of the alleged assault. While five out of nine justices found Arias guilty on one of the charges, Panama’s law would have required six votes for a conviction as the case involves a legislator.
Demonstrators expressed outrage at the ruling, holding banners and staging a pot-banging protest (“cacerolazo”) in front of the court building. The following day, three young demonstrators were detained at another protest near the National Assembly. A lawyer with Abogadas Feministas de Panamá (Feminist Lawyers of Panama - Afempa) said the protesters were charged with “disturbing public order” and fined between 300 and 1,000 dollars. Afempa called these fines excessive, saying they are a mechanism to criminalise protests. On 23rd April 2021, a group of women protested the detentions, holdings signs with messages such as “protesting is not a crime, sexual assault is a crime”.