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New York, July 6, 2000 — Panama Attorney General José Antonio Sossa will decide this evening if he will order the arrest of journalist Carlos Singares who is charged with showing “disrespect” for a public official for his story on Sossa’s alleged visits to a Panama City brothel.
The June 22 El Siglo article, “Sossa Seeks Pleasure Among Young Women,” reports that Sossa frequents a brothel which employs underage prostitutes. The account is attributed to lawyer Sidney Sittón. Sossa initiated a criminal procedure under Article 386 of Panama’s Judicial Code, which allows officials to impose a prison sentence of a maximum of eight days on anyone who offends a public employee. Under this law, those charged have no recourse for defense. In this case, as both prosecutor and judge, Sossa handed down the maximum eight-day prison sentence to Singares for “defamation and disrespect” in his article.
On the day of publication of the piece, around 3:30 p.m., Sossa sent a group of armed officers of the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) to the El Siglo offices to arrest Singares, but he could not be found. They returned in the early evening to search the entire office.
Singares has filed a writ of habeas corpus before the Supreme Court. On July 4, he, his lawyer and the People’s Defender Italo Isaac Antinori Bolaños visited the attorney general’s office, but Sossa would not see them. Yesterday, July 5, Singares’s lawyer presented a request that the decision be reconsidered. The journalist informed CPJ that Sossa has until 5 p.m., local time, today to either reject or accept the appeal. If Sossa rejects the appeal Singares could face immediate arrest.
“CPJ believes that journalists should never be jailed for what they write, but this case is particularly outrageous because Sossa is acting as both judge and jury,” noted CPJ’s executive director Ann Cooper. “His actions are an affront to freedom of the press in Panama and should send a chill down the spine of every journalist in the country.”