LGBTI+ activists warn of discriminatory measures in response to COVID-19

On 24th March 2020, Panama’s president Laurentino Cortizo announced the implementation of mandatory quarantine across the country in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Since then, hundreds of people have been detained for violating lockdown rules.

LGBTI+ activists warned that gender-based emergency measures in Panama could put transgender and non-binary people at risk. A measure published on 31st March 2020 restricted public circulation, establishing different days of the week for men and women to leave their houses. The policy’s implementation concerned civil society organisations because of potential discriminatory repercussions for those whose ID gender marker does not accurately reflect their gender identity. A similar measure was quickly overturned in Peru, in part because it led to more gatherings on the days designated for women as they are “typically tasked with more domestic work”.

On 1st April 2020, Bárbara Delgado, a transgender activist who is a member of the health committee in the Altos de San Francisco Health Centre, was detained for almost three hours. Delgado was reportedly told by officers that “only real women” were allowed out on Wednesdays. She was released with a fine. Local organisations have put together a google form for incident reporting and have demanded the inclusion of gender and diversity perspectives in the emergency measures taken during the pandemic.

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th March 2020, a protest to demand food and aid during the COVID-19 crisis ended in the looting of a local mini-market in Curundú, Panama City. Anti-riot forces intervened and at least four people were detained for vandalism. In the same region, protesters also set trash cans and other objects on fire.

On 22nd April 2020, 42 people were detained in La Chorrera during a protest to demand the payment of a solidarity bonus to support the most vulnerable during the COVID-10 emergency. On 21st and 22nd April 2020, the group of demonstrators blocked a local road, saying that their communities had not received the food and financial aid from the government’s “Panama Solidario” programme. The detained protesters will reportedly face charges for violating sanitary measures and for blocking a road.

Expression

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA)'s report on Panama published on 28th March 2020 highlighted restrictive legislation that affects freedom of expression in the country. The country criminalises libel and slander in some cases, with sanctions that include financial reparation and up to 18 months’ imprisonment. Litigation involving so-called “crimes against honour” has frequently been used to drain media outlets’ resources and intimidate journalists. The report also states that a draft Communications Framework Law establishing control mechanisms for media and journalists remains pending in the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).