CPJ Delegation Urges New Panamanian President to Repeal Gag Laws

Panama City, Panama, September 8, 1999–A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met with newly inaugurated president Mireya Moscoso this morning and urged her to repeal the country’s notorious “gag laws,” which criminalize the practice of journalism in Panama.

The gag laws date largely from military governments of the 1970s and 1980s. They impose prison terms for defamation, permit prior censorship, grant the government the right to regulate who may practice journalism, and impose criminal penalties for criticizing the president and other public officials.

While the gag laws are only selectively enforced, dozens of Panamanian journalists currently face criminal prosecution on defamation charges. CPJ was highly critical of former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares, who personally initiated several prosecutions against journalists who criticized his government.

In the meeting, President Moscoso promised to repeal the gag laws as soon as possible, but cautioned that the repeal process could take time.

“While we’re delighted that the President has made a commitment to repeal these onerous laws, the time has now come for immediate action,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon, who attended the meeting along with CPJ Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets and El Nuevo Herald associate editor Roberto Fabricio. El Nuevo Herald is an independent Spanish language newspaper owned by the Miami Herald Publishing Company.

“We reminded the president that she has the authority to repeal existing decrees, which contain some of the most onerous provisions of the gag laws, without legislative approval,” Simon added.

President Moscoso took office on September 1. Friday morning she is scheduled to address a conference on Central American journalism, hosted by the Freedom Forum. The conference, which will take place in Panama City on Thursday and Friday, will bring together top reporters and editors from throughout the region.

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