Report on freedom of expression highlights criminal defamation

Expression

On 10th December 2019, Panama’s Fórum de Periodistas por la Libertades de Expresión e Información (Journalists’ Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information) published a report on freedom of expression between 1st December 2018 and 30th November 2019. In the report, the criminalisation of slander and libel is highlighted as a serious restriction. In addition, according to the report, lawsuits demanding millions in compensation from journalists for “crimes against honour” have multiplied. This practice can be used to pressure reporters and to force news outlets to close down due to financial hardship. The Forum recommends the decriminalisation of such offences and urges a debate on creating limits to such abusive lawsuits.

The report also notes that judicial decisions related to access to information have been “erratic”, making it difficult to establish a clear jurisprudence that protects access to information rights. In this regard, the Forum recommends the empowerment of the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information to bolster the protection of this right.

Peaceful Assembly

During several days in November 2019, students from private and public universities continued to protest against constitutional reforms. As reported previously by the Monitor, these demonstrations began at the end of October 2019 and were met with repression, with at least a hundred people detained according to Agence France-Press (AFP). On 8th November 2019, charges against 90 student protesters were dismissed. However, a legal representative for the University of Panama stated that the dismissal of charges against other protesters was still pending.