Letters   |   Panama

Panama: Proposed "reform" of gag law would further restrict press freedom

July 26, 1999

His Excellency Ernesto Pérez Balladares
President of Panama
Presidential Palace
Panama City, Panama
Fax: 507-227-0073

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to express its dismay over proposed legislation that, while masquerading as an effort to reform Panama's onerous "gag laws," is actually a further assault on press freedom.

A bill, due to be discussed in the Legislative Assembly tomorrow, would replace Law 11, a provision of the gag laws that grant the Ministry of Government and Justice the authority to close down media outlets. While the new law, which would apply only to the print media, prohibits the government from taking such action, other provisions represent a significant step backward from Law 11.

The new law would raise the maximum fine for publishing information about someone's private life or physical handicap from $2,500 to $10,000. The maximum jail sentence would increase from 10 to 30 days.

Moreover, the proposed law empowers justices of the peace (corregidores)to apply these sanctions. Since justices of the peace are appointed and dismissed by mayors, this provision robs the media of the possibility of being tried by an independent tribunal. The only judicial recourse for those convicted under the proposed law would be an appeal to the Supreme Court on the grounds of unconstitutionality (amparo).

As we stated in the letter sent to you on March 4 of this year, CPJ believes that Panama's gag laws are a threat to press freedom, a violation of international law, and a blemish on Panama's democratic development. We are deeply disturbed that with just 37 days left in office, Your Excellency has not only failed to make good on repeated promises to repeal these laws, but is seeking to further restrict press freedom. May we suggest that expanding the legal means for repressing journalists is not a fitting legacy for a president who came to power pledging to strengthen Panamanian democracy.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director






Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Panama

Send a letter to:

His Excellency Ernesto Pérez Balladares
President of Panama
Presidential Palace
Panama City, Panama
Fax: 507-227-0073

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