Journalist associations warn of political decisions that impair freedom of expression in Panama

Expression

On 6 August 2019, four Panamanian journalists’ organisations issued a statement expressing concern over practices that they claim are affecting the relationship between the National Assembly and the media. The note underscores that recent legislative projects could restrict freedom of expression and information in the country and calls on the President and Vice President of the National Assembly, as well as other deputies, to ensure that legislative proposals respect these freedoms. An example of such a project was presented by congressman Javier Sucre, who proposed imposing fines on those who share images of accidents on social networks. The statement was co-signed by the Consejo Nacional de Periodistas (National Journalists Council - CNP), Fórum de Periodistas Por la Libertad de Expresión (Journalists’ Forum for Freedom of Expression), Asociación Panameña de Radiodifusión (Panamanian Radiobroadcast Association - APR) and the Asociación de Periodistas de Chiriquí (Chiriquí Journalists Association - APCH).

On 20 August 2019, National Assembly representative Zulay Rodríguez gave an interview accusing newspaper La Prensa of “covering up” bribes paid by construction company Odebrecht in Panama, aiming to protect former President Juan Carlos Varela, particular members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and La Prensa associates. On 21 August 2019, the CNP (National Journalists Council) published a statement expressing concern about the “attack”, contending that Rodríguez did not provide evidence to back her claims and that such accusations undermine the credibility of a media outlet. The note also reminds Rodríguez, who is currently serving as National Assembly Vice President,of a commitment made earlier in August to protect freedom of expression.

Peaceful Assembly

This update covers developments taking place between 20 July 2019 and 27 August 2019. In this period, Panamanian groups organised demonstrations around various causes – for example, against corruption and budget cuts in education – and temporarily blocked passage in key streets. Protests remained peaceful and there were no reports of incidents in the demonstrations.