Judge overturns decision barring journalist from leaving country

New York, October 29, 2003—A Panamanian court has overturned a ruling barring renowned Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti from leaving the country and ordering him to stand trial for criminal defamation charges filed against him in Panama in 1996.

Gorriti had recently traveled to Panama to attend a conference on corruption. On Monday, October 27, officials from the Tenth Criminal Court arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held and gave the journalist a court order just as he was about to begin a presentation. Court officials told Gorriti that he was barred from leaving Panama and ordered him to stand trial before Judge Anselmo Vidal on December 1.

The decision stemmed from a July 1996 article by Gorriti published in the Panama City­based daily La Prensa reporting that a company that was allegedly a front for drug traffickers in Panama had contributed US$5,000 to current Panamanian Attorney General José Antonio Sossa, who was then campaigning for re-election to the legislature. Sossa filed a libel suit against Gorriti, who at the time was associate director of La Prensa.

“This case highlights the need to repeal criminal defamation and libel statutes in Panama,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Libel should be a civil offense, not a criminal matter.”