Protesters taking to the streets face excessive force from police

Peaceful Assembly

Over the last few months, a number of protests have taken place in Panama, several of which were forcefully dispersed by police or resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. For example, on 10th June 2017 a demonstration was held over Decree 130, a proposed law that could potentially increase taxes on homeowners. The protest took place in front of the president’s house, where demonstrators reportedly clashed with police. A short video clip of the protest can be seen above. 

Following the 10th June protest, on 13th June students from the University of Panama also held a protest against Decree 130 that led to clashes with students throwing stones and police firing tear gas, resulting in four students' arrest and nine police officers sustaining minor injuries.

On 3rd June, 15 sex workers held a demonstration in Ancon against police harassment and incidents of verbal abuse when approaching police for assistance. The protesters claimed they had received prior permission to hold the demonstration; however, police forcefully dispersed the protest, arresting all 15 for blocking the road. The protesters were later released. 

On 7th July, taxi drivers protesting against Uber drivers faced a police crackdown when the demonstrators tried to block a main road into Panama City. There have been several protests against Uber operating in the country over the last several months. 

Expression

On 22nd June, the Prosecutor's Office announced the ongoing investigation into three business owners' acquisition of EPASA - a group of media companies - with the government calling it a case of money laundering. The government assured the public that freedom of expression and the journalists employment status will not be affected by the investigation. Nevertheless, the announcement of the investigation led to a series of protests by employees of the media outlets associated with EPASA. A video of the employees protesting can be seen above.

On 1st July, President Varela made an assumption publicly that journalists do not report on the improvements his government has made. Colegio Nacional de Periodistas issued a statement in response, emphasising that it is the job of independent journalists to report what is happening in the country, regardless of who is in power.   and called on the government to respect freedom of expression and media work.

Association

In March 2017, the government enacted Decree 62/2017 that regulates nonprofits. Civil society organisations (CSOs) reported that the new regulations restrict freedom of association. In a press release, several CSOs explained that the regulations create a new institution with broad powers to supervise and evaluate organisations. The government, in turn, claims that consultation with CSOs took place when developing the law and that some of the recommendations were included in the final version.