Panama: judicial harassment continues to affect freedom of expression
SIP advierte que se mantiene un acoso judicial a la prensa en Panamá.https://t.co/dlWODsbmMj— Libertad Ciudadana (@LibertCiudadana) October 31, 2022
In a report presented at its 78th General Assembly in October 2022, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) stated that judicial harassment remained the main threat to freedom of the press in Panama. The group pointed out lawsuits for slander and libel against independent journalists and media outlets such as El Foco and La Prensa. Panama’s legislation enables plaintiffs suing for damages to request a freeze or seizure of assets, even before a verdict has been handed down. This can severely impair media outlets’ operations.
In that regard, IAPA noted the need to eliminate the offence of libel and slander, as well as the need to establish limits to the amounts claimed in civil lawsuits, to veto the seizure of assets and the possibility of requesting a forfeiture of the claim where the case has not progressed in court after a certain period of time. According to IAPA, Panama’s Attorney General proposed a legal reform to the Criminal Code that contemplates a special protection for publications of public interest or actions by former employees during the exercise of their duties. It would incorporate the concept of actual malice as an evidentiary requirement for the crime of slander and libel. Local media considered that the reform would be a step in the right direction - although it was considered insufficient to stop judicial harassment.