Panama: coronavirus restrictions lifted and reimplemented

Peaceful Assembly

According to news media, Panama’s Ministry of Public Security counted at least 57 demonstrations during the pandemic. These protests were mainly organised by people demanding emergency government aid. As previously reported on the Monitor, 43 people were detained at such a protest for blocking a road on 21st April 2020. Law enforcement authorities accused the protesters of asking for money to allow drivers to get across the roadblock set up in the demonstration. On 23rd April 2020, a hearing was held in which the protesters were also charged with felonies against public health and economic property.

On 1st June 2020, Panama lifted some COVID-19-related movement restrictions, migrating from lockdown to curfew constraints, with sectors such as mining and construction returning to work. On 2nd June 2020, trade unions organised a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Labour and Laboral Development to protest the re-opening of the economy without proper measures to ensure the protection of workers and to promote continued social distancing. The unions demanded a gradual re-opening to avoid a new wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

On 8th June 2020, as the number of COVID-19 infections quickly began to rise, Panama’s government announced a return to previously adopted lockdown policies in some regions of the country – this included contested gender-based measures assigning separate days for men and women to conduct essential activities. Since the beginning of Panama’s quarantine in March 2020, transgender people’s association Asociación Panameña de Personas Trans has reportedly registered more than 40 complaints from people who have faced harassment while shopping for food and medicine due to these restrictions.

Expression

On 21st May 2020, Panama’s Strategic Communications Secretariat published paid advertisements in response to a news report from La Prensa questioning public purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the advert, the government sought to discredit La Prensa by implying the article was not truthful. Press associations Consejo Nacional de Periodismo and Fórum de Periodistas por las Libertades de Expresión e Información condemned the use of public funds to attack the media. In a joint note, the organisations underscored that “public institutions financed by taxpayers' taxes have an obligation to disclose all public interest information and to be held accountable for the actions of officials. It is unheard of that instead of fulfilling this duty, they dedicate themselves to attacking the media, squandering the necessary funds to combat the pandemic and to inform on public efforts dedicated to the same objective.”