Another jail sentence for Singares

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New York, August 3, 2000 — Carlos Singares, editor of the Panama City-based daily El Siglo, is currently serving an eight-day prison sentence for “disrespect” of the attorney general. Yesterday, an appeals court confirmed a 20-month prison sentence against him for having allegedly defamed former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares in a 1993 article.

On June 22, Singares was sentenced to serve eight days in prison for an article about sexual allegations against Attorney General José Antonio Sossa that had appeared in that day’s edition of El Siglo. His release is expected tomorrow, August 4.  [Click here to read about this case.]

Meanwhile, on August 2, the Second Superior Tribunal of Justice confirmed a 20-month prison sentence issued to Singares over a year and a half ago by a lower court for having defamed former president Pérez Balladares.

Pérez Balladares, who left office almost a year ago, filed the suit on July 12, 1993, when he was still a presidential candidate, according to Singares’s lawyer. The former president, argued that he had been defamed in an unsigned El Siglo item that accused him of helping former dictator Omar Torrijos move money outside Panama. The Second Criminal Court declared Singares guilty on December 10, 1998.

The prison sentence has been commuted to a US$1,875 fine. Singares’s lawyer is planning to appeal by filing a writ of amparo (a writ that asserts violations of guarantees of individual freedoms by government agencies or the judiciary) before the Supreme Court.

In the Buenos Aires Declaration of June 9, 2000, CPJ and other regional press-freedom advocates stated that “laws that penalize expression (contempt, slander, libel, or defamation) directed against public officials, public persons, or private individuals who have voluntarily involved themselves in matters of public interest are incompatible with the protection accorded to all people under the American Convention on Human Rights.”

“We urge Panama to live up to its international commitments by pardoning Carlos Singares and repealing the unjust gag laws that were used to convict him,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.