New York, October 7, 2010--A Panamanian court of appeals has convicted two TV journalists of criminal defamation and banned them from professional work for one year, news reports said. While President Ricardo Martinelli said he would pardon the journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today that lawmakers should repeal all criminal penalties for defamation.
The case stems from a 2005 story, aired by the national broadcaster TVN Canal 2, alleging that Panamanian immigration officials were taking part in human trafficking. Two officials named in the story filed a defamation complaint against Sabrina Bacal, the station's news director, and Justino González, the reporter on the story, Panamanian press reports said. In separate rulings in February and March, two lower courts dismissed the charges against the reporters, Bacal told CPJ.
But in a ruling dated September 28 and made public on Monday,
an appeals court in
Facing criticism from the local press and human rights defenders, Martinelli offered a full pardon on Wednesday, according to a government statement. The issuance of the pardon was still pending as of today.
"While we welcome President Martinelli's decision to pardon
our colleagues, we urge local authorities to carry out legal reforms to fully
decriminalize defamation," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator
Earlier this year, veteran Panamanian journalist Carlos Núñez López served 20 days in prison in connection with a 2008 criminal defamation conviction, CPJ research shows. A property owner alleged he was defamed in a story about environmental damage in Bocas del Toro province.
There is a growing consensus among countries in the region
that reporters should not be jailed for criminal defamation. The Argentine
criminal defamation provisions in its penal code in November 2009, while in