Environmental activists targeted with death threats and lawsuits

Association

Environmental activists in Panama are being specifically targeted through both legal and extra-legal means. In October, environmental activist Ligia Arreaga was forced to leave the country as she felt increasingly unsafe since receiving death threats in May. Arreaga had been active in denouncing land grabbing and illegal land sales in Darien province since 2007, and as a result received threats in 2009 and again in 2016.

Also in October, farmers’ leader Larissa Duarte was sued for 10 million dollars by a private company, Hidroeléctricas Los Estrechos S.A. The company held her responsible for the costs incurred when their hydroelectric project in Río Cobre was cancelled, allegedly as a result of her activism.

Concerned about the unprecedented level of attacks against environmental defenders, several Panamanian CSOs and human rights networks have met with Ombusdman Alfredo Castillero Hoyos to draft a protection protocol for human rights defenders. The Ombusdman in turn announced that further work on the document would be done during the 159th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to be held in Panama City from 29th November to 7th December. He also said that he would request a meeting with United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

Additionally, the Panamanian government requested to have the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, an initiative that has been at the source of several recent episodes of repression against indigenous communities, withdrawn from registration with the UN's Clean Development Mechanism.

Expression

In November, the executive introduced a proposal to regulate a 2013 law aimed at preventing femicides. This involves creating an agency in charge of receiving complaints from women who feel offended by sexist content in media statements or publications. The government also proposed the creation of an Office for Freedom of Expression, tasked with determining the amount of the fines that media and journalists would have to pay for offending women. Media and journalists' organisations demonstrated against this and other government initiatives that they considered as threats to the freedom of expression. On 7th November, a lawyer submittted a complaint to the Supreme Court of Justice in order to request a declaration of unconstitutionality on parts of the law as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Peaceful Assembly

In October, spokespeople from a patients group condemned their forced removed by police officers in order to restore vehicular circulation. The group included transplant patients and people with chronic illnesses who had blocked a road in order to protest a lack of medicine in the public health system.