Panama: President signs bill eliminating gag laws

New York, December 21, 1999 — Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso signed a bill yesterday eliminating two of the country’s “gag laws,” which have been used to stifle press freedom.

Moscoso described the gag laws as a “sword of Damocles hanging over the media in Panama” and pledged to work for the elimination of the other restrictive press laws that remain on the books within 180 days.

The ceremony was attended by representatives from the Inter-American Press Association, including President Tony Pederson, and Alberto Ibargüen, publisher of the Miami Herald and a member of CPJ’s board of directors. (Click here to read the Miami Herald’s December 21 editorial on the subject.)

The bill that President Moscoso signed was passed on November 30, with the approval of 70 of the Legislative Assembly’s 71 members. It repeals part of Law 11, which permitted the Ministry of Government and Justice to impose prior censorship and levy severe penalties against journalists and news organizations, as well as Law 68, which established a Technical Board of Journalism with power to decide who could practice journalism.

A delegation from CPJ met with President Moscoso on 8 September and urged her to repeal the gag laws. The new law requires the Ministry of Government and Justice to submit, within 180 days, a comprehensive proposal eliminating all remaining restrictions on press freedom in Panama.