HRDs in Panama face legal harassment from private companies

Association

During the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 165th regular session in Montevideo, Uruguay from 23rd to 27th October 2017, the IACHR held a session with the government of Panama, the Ombudsman and civil society leaders to review the situation for human rights defenders in the country. The main concern expressed was the legal harassment by private companies against activists who oppose certain development projects. An example of a recent case of harassment was reported in the latest Monitor update on Panama. In this case, a mining company sued activist Basilio Perez for 40,000 USD, claiming damages after Perez reported the company to the environmental authority of Panama. A list of cases of harassment against activists in the last eight years can be found here.

Peaceful Assembly

Parents and students from the public school Instituto Fermin Naudeau protested on 4th October to demand better conditions. They had lacked electricity for two weeks, making it impossible for students to attend classes. The police cleared a road that the protesters were blocking and maintained a strong presence during the demonstration.

In a separate incident, former workers of Petaquilla mining company blocked four streets in protest on 20th October as they demanded salaries that were due four years ago. It was reported that the demonstration ended in clashes with the police. 

A national strike was called by Cámara Nacional de Transporte (National Chamber of Transport) on 25th October over private driving services such as Uber and the implementation of a new bus system in the province of Colon. Several clashes between police officers and demonstrators were reported in different cities around the country, and 20 people were reportedly arrested and several trucks confiscated.

Expression

As reported on the Monitor, the U.S. Department of Treasury included Abdul Waked, a main shareholder of two main news outlets in Panama, in its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list to address potential cases of money laundering. According to the Inter-American Press Association, this decision could have affected the sustainability of the associated media outlets. However, in early October 2017 Waked transferred 51 percent of his stocks in the media outlets to a private foundation, thus reducing his share of ownership in the outlets, which were then removed from the SDN list and freed up to now conduct business with U.S. based companies. 

Concerns arose in the country after the Public Ministry presented a draft law to include cyber crimes in the Criminal Code. According to Forum de Periodistas por las libertades de expresión e Información, the proposed bill could potentially be "used to restrict freedom of expression." The proposal was withdrawn from the National Assembly on 18th October.

On 24th October, Alfredo Junca, Magistrate from the Electoral Court, announced that he will be holding meetings with representatives of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The objective is to monitor social media during the 2019 election year. He gave assurance that such an action would not inhibit freedom of expression but would rather protect citizens from fake news and defamation campaigns.